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Immortal Artist is dedicated to exploring all aspects of experimental art and creating new and innovative techniques which other artists can use to strengthen their own work.


The blogs creator, experimental artist Grey Cross pursues and discusses art across a wide spectrum of artistic mediums. They include painting, sculpting, body art, digital art, and photography. With an emphasis on teaching artists to utilize today's social networks to further their own art and reputations.


This blog uses the Living Blog concept, an idea created by Grey Cross

Grey Cross Studios/Immortal Artist Operations

New Orleans

Email: greyacross@aol.com

Monday, November 23, 2015

Nosferatu The Ghost Ship (Sculpture Tutorial)

I often talk about brainstorming and the technique called "cubing". The piece of art I am going to describe here comes directly from that technique. So you might want to check out this article first (Lost in the Space of My Mind)

Part #1 The Brainstorm


So about 4 weeks ago I watched a short video about the sinking of a large decommisioned cargo freighter off Australia to be used to create new reefs. The video was taken from above and showed the explosion amid ship and the subsequent sinking of the two parts. For some reason the angle of the front portion of the ship fascinated me and I watched the video several times. 

Mind you that at that stage I had no concept of a piece of art in mind. I merely noted the details and filed it away in my mind. If you've read the above article link then you know that I catalog a lot visual data into my various cubes. I must have done so with this even though there is no conscious recollection of doing so. 

Now we move ahead in time to about a week ago. I'd been doing some experimental work with creating personalities in pieces of driftwood. I'd decided to try something different using foaming glue. I allowed the glue to drip and foam, creating something akin to a stalactite. When the glue had dried a bit I added to it until I had drips of the proper length. After letting the whole thing dry I'd created drips that were rock hard solid and looked great on the piece I was working on. Again the data from the experiment was cataloged in my head. It was a technique that I felt would have value down the line even though I wasn't sure how yet. 

Now we jump ahead again to last night. I'd been watching a documentary on Youtube regarding the deepest place on earth, the Marianas trench. It was a well done discussion on the underwater formations around the trench and the volcanic activity that created giant volcanic funnels deep under the ocean. 

That must have been what my mind needed. From these three things, the cargo video and dripping glue and underwater volcanoes, my mind made a connection. Again not at a conscious level. But at some point the information spun into one potential art concept. 

When I woke up this morning I had an instant flash of a piece of art. While I stumbled half awake to the bathroom I saw a cargo ship. It was deep under water and lodged in two parts on a reef. The picture in my mind was that it had been there a long time. The reef had grown up and around the ship in intricate columns. I knew immediately I was seeing a potential piece of art. I could recognize after the fact the individual components that helped bring the idea together.

Keep in mind that after so long I have learned to identify between what is just a random manifestation of the dream state or an actual conceptual piece of art. There is a distinct feel to the vision that is more akin to a flare going off, rather than a muddled dream. Even half awake I knew what I was seeing.

Part #2 From Idea to a Working Plan

As is usually my way, I filed the brainstorm away for future consideration. No I didn't bother to write this one down. I was tired and cold and I just wanted to slip back into bed. But I did make a mental note of it to examine more clearly when I was awake. 

Upon waking I could still picture the brainstorm and my mind instantly went towards how to make the piece into a sculpture. Mind you all I had at that point was a too real image in my mind of a real ship. So began a deconstruction of the image in my mind and a conversion of the elements of the image into actual supplies would need to make a sculpture. 

So first I examined the ship. What materials would be needed to create the ship? Could it even be created? Yes, the ship could easily be crafted using dry foam sculpted using clay tools and a Dremel. I could reasonably craft a ship in two pieces that was worn away and an underwater ruin. 

What about the ocean floor? Yes that was easy. Using natural clay and plant life I could potentially make a lifelike ocean floor. 

What about the reef growth? If I'd been asked that a week ago I wouldn't have had a ready answer. But my foaming glue experiments offered a perfect potential solution. If I placed the clay first, and embedded the ship into it. I could use foaming glue and then turn the sculpture upside down and let the glue drip off of it. If I did it enough times and I varied the tilt of the upside down sculpture, I could potentially make a reef that looked realistic yet looked like the underwater currents had effected it. In other words they wouldn't stick straight up but have a slight tilt and sway that reefs often have. 

But what about the water? Now here is a tricky part, and one I cant definitively say I have a solution to yet. There are several ways I could approach it. I could surround the sculpture with Plexiglas and draw objects onto it, such as fish that would look like they were hanging above the ship. I could create just a Plexiglas top that suspended over the ship giving the illusion of the surface of the ocean. I could use crumpled saran-wrap to create elements that hung over the ship. In all honesty I am not sure which of these I will use, or in what combination. What was important at this stage was simply "can it be done?" Are their elements that I don't have the skills or materials to recreate? The answer was "yes" it can most definitely be done. 

Now I had to identify whether I had the basics to get started on it. Yes, surprisingly I had everything in stock to work on it. A quick estimation was that it would be about a 40 hour project which included a heck of a lot of drying time. There was nothing I needed to obtain for it either unless I decided to go with Plexiglas walls. If I did so I would need to have pieces cut to match the size of the tile base. But that was easily done. 

Part #3 Research

I am pretty familiar with underwater reefs and with cargo ships. But a bit research is never a bad thing. So I took a look at various styles of cargo ships and underwater formations to give me an idea of how to proceed. Never forget research unless you know the subject of your art very well. 

Part #4 Building the Sculpture

Now in the actual building is where we deviate from form to art. I could recreate it exactly as a I see it, but I want it to also exist as a piece of art. And I do not want to box myself in so tightly that I can't change plans as I go along. So each component will be crafted slowly with attention to both detail and potential color schemes. It will also take into account that the basic concept may change. I guess the point I am making here is to not lock yourself into an idea so tightly that you have no wiggle room. You want to brainstorm and consider the basic structure, but you want to also have spontaneity to create variations from the original vision as ideas will consider to pop up as you proceed.

From here I am now caught up on the narrative of how this piece came into being and about to begin the actual work on it. I will list the steps here over the coming days, so I suggest you check back on it as I proceed. 

Part #5 - Naming the Piece

I've added this here because the naming of a piece may occur at any time during the process of creation. In some cases the name is already present when the piece is brainstormed. Other times it comes at the very end. I have no preference on this and I have no limitations on renaming later if I find a better name suits the piece. In this case the naming is occurring during the creation of the vessel itself. The vessels name is Nosferatu, thus the name of the sculpture. I am not sure why but I wanted a name that hearkened back to a more Gothic era. I wanted the ship to have an almost haunted feel to it without having to add ghosts or spirits to the actual piece. Sometimes just a name can create the attitude you want to impart.

Step #1
Building the Ship

The tile base I am using is 2' x 1' in size. To recreate the ship I will need four pieces of dry foam for the body of the ship. Two pieces for each end. I will need a third piece for the conning tower and a fourth for the prow of the ship. I may also add cargo containers spilled out of the hull, but we'll leave that idea for the moment and just focus on the ship itself. 

Sculpture Tile Base
I'll use larger pieces of foam than are needed because much of it will be carved off to give the ship an abandoned look. You can see here that I've compiled a number of shapes and sizes that might potentially be used. 


Now its about going back to research. I've compiled a number of images of sunken ships that will help me sculpt the details out of the foam. Keep in mind that the angles of the ship won't be decided until later. So the detail work must encompass all sides and some breaks may occur also if I decide to break away various parts of it. But those are details decided later. First we'll focus on the front of the ship. Once I have a firm idea of the design I'll begin.

So the first step needs to be to carve out the basic outline of the ship. Its a rough model at this stage and you'll note that its not in pieces yet. That will come later once I have the details in place. I'd planned to build the ship according to its demise under the water, but I decided it was easier to envision it as a whole first with the proper details and then decay it and break it into pieces later. So I found the pieces of foam that suited the basic shape and used an Loktite Go2 glue to seal them together. It was important to use just enough glue to seal it but not enough that will get in the way later once I break it apart. This is the result so far. Its rough but the basic shape is all I needed.




Here you can see that I've begun to shape the foam. Using a hand sander I rounded off the edges a bit and began forming the for and aft of the ship. This is a messy step and better done with a mask and goggles. There is dry foam flying everywhere. 




Pieces have now been added to the superstructure including the remains of 4 crane gantries, antennas and a rear smoke stack made simply from a discarded medicine bottle. While it doesn't look like much yet, its important to keep the final sculpture in mind of an eerie broken ship buried within a reef. So the choice of components is geared towards that end decay, not towards a great looking cargo ship. The hardest part of this is conceptualizing what it will be as opposed to what it is. 



Now begins the detailing of the superstructure. Portholes, anchor points, doors, etc. You'll also note that I broke off the four gantry cranes. I didn't like the way they dominated the structure, so I left the nubs and removed the upper portions. I will use the broken pieces later to scatter around the ship. I am also considering going to a larger tile base. I'll may need to go find one if I have nothing in stock. 



Here the ship has been black based. This is to ready it for actual detail painting. Very soon I will get ready to break the ship about a quarter of the way from the prow. Once thats completed then I will hollow out the inside of the ship and then black base in the inside. 



You would not think the break point to separate the ship would be that important, but rather than just snapping the foam in half I want to control the snap to give it a more realistic look. I used a fine edged tool and just cut into the superstructure at the point I want to break to occur then snapped the piece to complete the effect. 



Once the break occurs I used my Dremel to hollow out a set of decks and a larger bilge at the bottom. I will black base the break also before proceeding. 



At this point pre-prep on the ship is complete. There will be more to do with it once its embedded on the tile. Color detailing won't take place until its in place so that I am creating a color scheme that fades into the ocean floor. Rust tends to dissipate and stain the seabed, so we want the coloration to extend out past the ship. 

Step #2
Assembling the Ocean Components

There are several components that can be prepped before the actual building the sculpture. The clay is not considered a component since it is part of the overall structure of the ocean floor. There are three primary components:

Fauna
Reefs
Ship Parts

The primary fauna will be an odd kind of plant life that is found down near the Mississippi River. I have no clue whether this is part of the tree it lives on or separate species that lives off the tree. I took notice of it because of its willowy look. It looks like its under water. Despite appearances its strong and solid. Here you see it with its black base in place over its original brown color. It will be painted a second time in whatever colors I choose to detail it in. Some moss will also be added later to give variety.



For the base of the reef I'll be using driftwood, specifically cypress wood because of its remarkable likeness to rock. The longer piece will form the base of the reef beneath the ship. The smaller pieces will be outcroppings that stick up. Mind you all of this will be overlaid with foaming glue to create the actual reef tops later. The wood will be buffed and cleaned first and then base blacked. Detailing work will take place on the sculpture itself. 



The final component will be the gantry cranes for the ship which will be scattered around the debri field with chunks of rusted metal to give it that realistic feel. I am not picturing those since I've not chosen them all yet. 

Step #3
Mounting the Tile

Now begins the true building of the sculpture. With everything ready to go, the first step is to mount the center reef onto the base tile. This is a twisted piece of driftwood, perfect because of its curved S shape. It is centered on the tile and epoxied to it. Once its dried then I will use natural clay to fill in the gaps around it and create a more natural looking ocean floor. 



While the epoxy dries positioning the ship begins. Searching for just the right angle for both ends of the superstructure. You'll note I've done some additional work on the ship. I've painted the bottom an under layer of gunmetal gray metallic paint. Much of this will be painted over later. I've also created several large holes in the superstructure. The photo shows what will be the final resting place of the Nosferatu once she's ready to be added permanently. 



Here the first layer of the seabed has been put into place using natural clay. The clay runs right up to the center piece of wood, merging it into the seabed and beginning the transition to make it look more like a piece of coral reef than a piece of wood. 



Now here you can see the first image that really starts to show what the piece will eventually look like. Here we have added the cargo ship into place burying it partially in the clay and molding the clay up around it to make it look like its been laying there for a long time.



Here the foaming glue has been added. This seals in the first layer of clay and seals the ship to the tile. It also is crafted to look like the reef is starting to consume the ship.



The formations I am adding are called Massifs. They are huge outcroppings of rock that rise from the seabed around volcanic activity. When complete they will be part rock and part coral reef. I used large pieces of cypress for the massifs to intentionally dwarf the cargo ship. 


I've chosen a combination of gray's for the underlayer of the massif's and the oceanbed. There is a lot of glue work to do still to create the reef points, but I wanted to get a basic underlayer in place first. The boat will be mostly rust and bronze when I get done with it. Very little of the original color work will show, so that should set well with the grays.



The first of multiple glue lines has been added to create the striations usually found underwater. This lends a reality to the piece that the ship has been underwater for a long time and is becoming part of the landscape.



For the first time you can begin to see what a difference the glue drips make. This is the first layer of coral with color. As more drips are added and the directions change it will take on a whole new look and feel and also give it a lot more color than its previously had



Now begins the tricky part. Making the glue drip in the proper direction to create reef points at the top of the massifs and throughout the superstructure of the ship. In order to do so I've created a cradle in the studio where the sculpture can lay inverted, allowing the drips to form upwards towards the ocean surface. There is a drip plate on the floor beneath it to catch the glue that falls off.



Now I'll use my ears. Here you can see the first glue drips starting to form. I will listen to the dripping on the catch plate below. When I can no longer here it dripping I will know that the glue is beginning to get firm and will add another layer to lengthen then drips. If this is done too soon it will just fall off. So timing it to let the first layer dry a bit will let the drips lengthen instead of falling to the ground.



Here you can see the effects of the drip process. This is drip cycle #7 so far, done over a 4 hour period. This will be repeated over and over again with the sculpture being tipped at different angles to achieve different directions in the drip. Its a slow process.



So here you will see a great change has taken place. When  the sculpture was removed after gluing and I began working on the detailing I found I hated the colors. My original idea was to use real coral colors. The first that became evident was that the colors removed the haunted feeling I was looking for in the sculpture. It looked more like a piece of fruit stripe gum! So I went back to research and looked over multiple photos taken of underwater ruins and reevaluated the original color scheme. First I changed the color of the ship. I overlaid a rust color over the whole superstructure and then highlighted it with bronze. Then I used a burnt orange metallic on all the drips. I left just a bit of the original color of blue and silver to make it look like the original paint was almost completely gone. I did the same with the points where the name had been added. 

Next I repainted the gray of the massifs and the seabed. The new color was a combination of bleached sand, light gray and a color called overcoat. Then I added just a touch of spanish olive to add some algae color into it. Once this was completed I then added ebony black to the drips and brushed along the seabed. Then over that I painted everything, even the ship with an overlay of pearlescant white. This was added very lightly to give the whole piece a glow. The result was that it gave the whole sculpture a ghostly feel. The last step was to add just a touch of sunset gold to some of the tips of the glue drips to make them feel more like coral. I was very pleased by the effect.

There are two final steps to complete the sculpture. One will be to sand the oceanbed with real beach sand. The second will be to add a polyurethane coat to seal the sculpture.  

Here is the result. 



So here we are almost totally complete. Some final key elements have been added. First I've added some golden fauna gently moving in the ocean current. I added several large metal pieces between the two ends of the ship to create a look that it pulled apart. And I added an anchor (not pictured) and chain laying in rust across the ship. The final stage will be to sand the ocean floor. We are going to go get actual beach sand from the gulf tomorrow just to make it a bit more authentic.



This view is looking straight down at the sculpture



So here is the final version. You can just make out the final steps in the process which included sanding the base with beach sand and adding some shells and the giant starfish to the hull. These photos are for its official sell page. I will also do a special effects version where it looks like its underwater as well as video taping the piece from all angles. This one has been a true pleasure to work on!



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