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Saturday, June 4, 2016

Ice Spirits Sculpture - Experimenting With Fragile Art & Capping

A few months ago I wrote an article on a new technique using appliance epoxy on very fragile pieces of driftwood, allowing the natural pattern in the rot of the wood to remain but strengthening it enough to use in art. Since then I've not had time to experiment further with this technique. One reason was that I had not found any wood fragile enough to experiment on, until now. 

This is not driftwood (the medium I usually work with). This is a piece of what I think was a Juniper tree. It was found in a pile of very old wood shards in a cemetery in New Orleans. So it is a very unique and aged piece of wood.
I must admit right from the start that this experiment may fail. Just picking it up broke off several pieces. I carefully got it home but and gently rinsed off any debris from it, but even more of it fell apart. 

After drying the piece for a day I then applied the experimental appliance epoxy to it, thoroughly coating the wood on all sides with about 6 coats of the heavy epoxy. Why this seems to work is because the epoxy seals and creates a bond between fragile pieces of the wood, yet keeps the original pattern of the wood which is of course the reason I wanted it in the first place. 

During the process of the 6 coats I lost a lot more of it that was even too fragile to handle the application of the spray. This is what the final sprayed and dried piece looks like.

You can see that I lost one large chunk of it, but will keep it and perhaps use it in the overall composition. I am really unsure that its fragile nature will even allow me to work with it now. Its more solid than it was, but still not in the best shape. We'll see what can be done.

Shaping is the key to any good sculpture. The symmetry must be in place to make the sculpture appealing. In this case just enough of the original piece of wood had broken off to make throw the symmetry off also. So once I mounted the main piece of wood on its tile base I then took shards collected of the same wood and began to craft them into a shape that was pleasing to the eye. You can see here that two additional pieces were added plus several smaller pieces that cannot be seen, in order to shore up one end of the central piece. The whole structure was embedded in clay which was shaped around it and covered in foaming glue to make it as solid as possible to the base. 

Here you can see the whole structure with two more coats of the appliance epoxy on it. There are still some very fragile components though, especially the very top center. So I am going to try and coat the whole structure in polyurethane next to see if it will strengthen it a bit more. If that fails then I will use minute amounts of a loktite glue, drizzled into some of the weaker points to try and give it a bit more stability.

The Color Process

Now we begin a very careful color process. Rather than try to cover the whole structure with color, I'm instead going to brush the color on in opposition to the grain of the wood. Instead of painting with the grain, this will assure that I am only painting the outer parts of the wood. This will leave any slight fragility to the wood in tact without adding the added stress of a paintbrush to it, and will let the grain of the wood (which is the reason the piece was so appealing in the first place) to stand out. 

The color will be applied in stages. The first stage will be the application of metallic blue to the surface and complete coverage of the base tile. Over this I will use a peacock green metallic brushed lightly over the blue in places. As seen here, the peacock green is used sparingly.

Once those two colors dry then two more colors will be applied. The first is a peridot metallic green and a splendid gold metallic. Again both of these colors are lightly added to gain shadow and bring out the grain rather than to cover any other color up. 

The final color stage will be the use of pearlescents. Four colors will be used. Hi-Lite Blue, Hi-Lite Violet, Hi-Lite Red and pearlescent white. The will be added in combination with each other to blend in to each other and will be applied a bit more aggressively to totally cover the sculpture except in the deepest cracks. It will be applied thinly though to allow the other colors and the original black to still be seen. The overall effect will be to mute down the colors a bit and create a glow to the whole sculpture.

You can see what a stunning transformation takes place when the pearlescents are added. It takes on an almost mystical presences now that a photo can't quite capture. At this stage we are almost complete. The only addition will be painting several heavy layers of polyurethane onto it. This should solidify any remaining weak spots in the decay and make the sculpture solid and complete. 

So there you have a process for creating art from very fragile material. I will do other posts on this in the future and as new techniques are created in studio.

UPDATE 06-04-16

As is often the case, I've decided to add to this sculpture. I'd let the piece sit for several weeks and was about to create the final specs on it and photograph the piece for sale. Two issues occured at this point. First I had not named the piece during the experimental stages and no specific title had yet come to mind. The second issue was the series status of the piece. The sculpture was made from Juniper Wood. It was not technically driftwood as it was not found in water. So I had to consider both title and series for the piece. Due to the fact that I was not sure I could find more of this particular wood, I could not base the series on the type of material such as I had done with the driftwood sculptures. So I had to puzzle through both issues together. On more abstract pieces such as this I often just look at the sculpture and let it suggest a title. In this case it reminded me of glittering caves of ice. More specifically it reminded me of icicles. Then I got a brainstorm. What if I "capped" the piece. What I mean by this, is what if I were to take a tile the same size as I used for the base, extend the wood upwards using shards from another piece I still had and created a roof over the sculpture? Would this in essence create a cave of ice stalactites? 

Now there are technical issues involved in doing so. Could it be done without damaging the already fragile wood? Could it be done in a way where it would not mask the sculpture from view? After consideration, I feel its possible. So changing the sculpture now solves both issues. The new name for the piece will "Ice Spirits" and the series will be based on caves, not the wood itself. My opinion is that capping the sculpture now gives it a unique twist that takes it away from the driftwood series just enough to differentiate it. It also allows me to experiment with a very different sculptural aspect, that of capping. Can it be done? Lets see. Follow along in the next few days to see the steps in the process.

Step #1 Color Variations

If I want the sculpture to reflect an icier feel, I want to make some subtle color changes to the existing structure. The first is to change the base from the matching colors of the ice to a more solid cave like feel. So I am using a color called Sequin Black first. This is a shinier black than a flat black is and will give the surface a more reflective feel but also darken it so that it has that dark cave feel to it. 

Step #2 Hologram Effect

This step is almost so subtle that the camera can't pick it up. But I've used a clear acrylic paint called hologram which has very minute glitter particles in it that are pinprick in size. The overall effect is that the wood now glitters when your moving around it just as ice would do. 

Step #3 Polyurethane (no photo)

I've applied an additional coat of polyurethane over the hologram paint to seal everything in. This will make clean up easier if anything gets on the sculpture when I apply the cap to it.

Step #4 Extending the Spires

The only way to make this come out even is to extend the length of two of the spires to equal the length of the center spire. I've done this with some extra pieces of Juniper cut flat on top and laid to the existing spires with natural clay and foaming glue. It is now conceivable that I can place the cap evenly. 

Step #5 Attaching the Cap

Natural clay is used to attach the cap. Its been lined up to fit evenly so that the top and bottom are not askew. 

Step #6 Securing the Cap

The sculpture is turned over and the extenders are sunk into the natural clay. Foaming glue is then used over the clay to create a tight bond for the cap. 

Step #7 Creating Ice Stalactites 

The inner area of the sculpture is meant to be  rock, while the outer portions will be ice stalactites that will stretch from top to bottom. I am using wooden chopsticks and large toohthpicks to form the cores of the stalactites, embedding each in natural clay and foaming glue. I will stagger them to give them a natural effect.

Step #8 The Drip

Now I will use foaming glue to create a drip effect from one end of each stalactite to the other. This will again give it a more natural look and allow variations in each stalactite. This step takes two days as the glue has to be applied sparingly and allowed to dry and then reapplied over and over again. The sculpture is also flipped several times so that the drip process effects both sides.

Step #9 Final Colors

Once the glue is dry I can then apply the color overlays to the stalactites. I've black based all the new components first then overlaid them with pearlescent white. A very sparse coat of hi-lite blue is now applied over the white to give the ice some depth and then finally a layer of argent glitter is brushed lightly across all of the ice to give it a glittering effect.

Step #10 Polyurethane

The next step is to apply a spray polyurethane to the whole sculpture. I am not using a the brush on poly as it will leave an amber color to the ice that I want to avoid. So I will use the spray which cuts down on that problem and leaves the ice its natural color. Here you can see the sculpture almost completed now. It will take several more coats of the poly and then I will paint both the top and the bottom the same ice colors so that the sculpture can be flipped in either direction depending on the tastes of the owner. 

Step #11 The Ends

Its interesting. This is the only art form I've ever created where I was required to consider the top and bottom of the sculpture also. Usually the bottom is never seen, so there is very little work that must be done with it. In this case, the bottom is the top and even the sides, so its necessary to take two factors into consideration. #1 the color. #2 the longevity. 

#1 is simplistic enough. Finding a complimentary color scheme to go with the sculpture. #2 is more complex. Creating a polyurethane coat that is thick enough to secure the paint and keep it from getting scratched. With those in mind I chose this color scheme. This is actually a variation of the colors used on the inner part of the sculpture just not with as much blue. I think it sets it off nicely. You can see in the second photo that there is a glow from the polyurethane. I may add a few more coats to give it complete coverage and a thicker layer. 

Step #12 Photographing

An interesting thought came to me when I began the final photography for the piece. It can be displayed in 18 different ways. Any of its four sides can be displayed. Flip it over and you get four more sides. Tip it on its side and you get four more. Flip it again and another four. Lastly the ends are painted also so you could technically display it with an end showing if you wished. I think this is the only piece I've ever created that can be displayed at so many angles. Here are a few of the variations in the finished photo work for the piece.

Conclusions: For all practical purposes this sculpture is now complete. Of course by the rules of Assimilation Art nothing is ever complete, so this one may come back in another form later. My final thoughts though are that the capping process is something unique and something that MUST be explored further. So expect other examples in the near future as I refine this process and see what else can be done with it. 

I hope this tutorial was helpful. Please address questions and comments to the chat box below the post. I'll be happy to answer. 


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