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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Air Maiden (Sculpture Tutorial)

Finally we've gotten the new outdoor art space to the point where we can begin using it for projects. The first is the large piece of deadwood which will be cleaned and preserved first before becoming art. It will need a large plinth to support it, so the search will be on to create the base while working on the deadwood. 

The preservation process will take several weeks. The wood has to be tested, cleaned and anything that is too rotten will be carefully removed. The process is similar to working on bones in an archaeological dig. Along with custom made tools, I use a set of dental tools to carefully remove debris, old bugs, weed growth and the occasional cocoon, until the wood is clean and the remaining parts are strong. 

Once that is finished I will apply multiple layers of spray epoxy to preserve the erosion and grain of the wood. 

I decided before the final epoxy spray that I wanted to mount the piece in a base first. After a lot of debate on which angle it should sit at, I went with this rather odd side angle with one end mounted in the base. The problem with this piece is that the wood is neither easy to maneuver or light weight. Thus finding a way to mount it took priority after it spent three days being vigorously cleaned. Mounting took some ingenuity. Unlike many pieces I work with, this had no natural weight point where it could settle easily. I had to really improvise to make it work. I took a 1' x 1' tile and mounted a concrete paving stone on with a hollow center. I sealed it to the tile first. Then I took very wet mortar and began filling the inside of the paving stone until it was about 3/4 full. Then I placed the wood at the angle I wanted it and then continued to add mortar until it brimmed at the top. Then I took and let some of the mortar seep out and down the paving stone. This would not only gaurantee that the paving stone stayed sealed to the tile, but began to create a more ergonomic shape that fit with the natural contours of the wood. The piece was then left to dry for a day until it was solid and the wood would stand without the use of any supports. The balance seems just about perfect now. The next step will be to continue the ergonomic shaping to eliminate sharp edges. More on this in this later.

Now the sculpture begins to take shape. The base has been covered in natural clay to give it a smoother shape. I will add a bit more to this later so that the wood flows smoothly into the base and no sharp lines remain.

The next stage is called "Black Basing". Using a black spray epoxy and regular black spray paint, the whole sculpture is brought down to a single color and any places where the wood may still be a little week is firmed up with the epoxy. This process takes several coats to make sure the whole piece is as dark as it can get. After that color can be applied. 

The sculpture now weighs well over 100 pounds with most of the weight being in the base to keep it steady.

Now we come to the color stage. At this point it looks like a Jackson Pollock painting on crack. But that will change over the coming days. This is the stage where its easy to say "wow, this looks like crap". But its important for the artist to keep in mind what the final art will look like, not how a single stage looks. Lots of work to go and more color to be added today. 

So here you can see the true goal of all the color work in the last step. I've used a pearlescent overlay which is rubbed carefully over the surface of the wood until the color begins to sink back into the wood. Its a time consuming process because its essential to leave none of the black underlay showing and every nook and cranny has to be carefully painted. There is at least one more coat that has be added still before I'll be satisfied with the color depth. Its really an optical illusion that occurs with the overlay. When everything is completely finished the whole piece will be sprayed with a high gloss which should finish the illusion that the color is deep under the surface. There is yet one more element that will be added last to the piece. 

And here is the final sculpture in all her glory. The name "The Air Maiden" was chosen because the shape reminded me of a mermaid rising from the sea. But with the inclusion of the silver spanish moss, she was more a creature of the air than the water. Thus the gentle Air Maiden is born! 

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