Friday, 10 October 2014

I clay'm to have done this...

Clay. This was my chance to finally get my fingers dirty after mucking about (yeah, I know, but I had to go there) on the computer, so I was really excited about starting this class.
The tutor was Liz O'Kane, a very experienced and talented sculptor. You can see her work on, I advise you to go over and check out it out. If you've been to the Iveagh gardens, you've probably seen some of her sculpture! The classes were held in her centrally located studio, which was handy. It's also a lovely place to go and she encourages visitors to come and check out her work, so do contact her if you want to drop by and have a look. Her classes are worthwhile, and I can almost promise you'll come out of it wanting to do more yourself. Very motivating!

The first day was a strange one. We were told to look at the model from the profile only and try to match that view. Naturally, this was against everything I had ever learned when modelling on the 'puter, so I have to admit, I railed against it and found it very hard not to keep turning the model around and fixing the other views. After several slaps on the wrist, I eventually succumbed. However, I never got a photo of the result at the end result of that first session, which is probably just as well.

Anyway, onto the clay - it was great getting my hands dirty! There's nothing quite like it. You feel like a kid again with all the moist clay between your fingers. Great fun!

Charlotte - a French national, is our lovely model, who, as chance would have it, has the patience of a saint (as we poke and accidentally prod her with calipers and the like and leave her face with streaks of clay). We're modelling her lifesize, which helps enormously when making measurements.

Update - final bronze images 

Final bronze portrait

Original post starts here:

Say hell to Charlotte, the model for this. Click the images to make them bigger. Go on, I dares ya.

These classes are also 3 hours each, so after the first 2 or 3 classes, this is where I was.
(Whose idea was it to have a model look straight ahead with no facial expression whatsoever? And can I hit them now please...?)

Masculine, right? Yeah, I thought so too. Turns out a likeness doesn't happen in just a few short hours. Also - what the hell!? No eyes!

By the end of the next class, I was starting to get some more form into her face, but still struggling with the masculinity (which will be an ongoing theme!).

By the time we got onto the 3rd or 4th class (I believe - I have the memory of a senile earthworm), she was starting to get eyes.

Another class later, and the mouth was redone, some detail added to the hair, and tweaks to the eyes. The likeness is still far away, and while I appreciate it will be hard to see even when I get it closer due to the nature of it being clay and not textured or coloured in any way, it's still a surprise to me to see just how difficult it is to get a likeness. I have newfound respect for those that do.

Click me, I become clearer when you do

Luckily, I still have another 5 or 6 classes left to cruise on into Tweaksville and see if I can get her any closer. I'll keep updating this page as I do.

Update after class 5, I've started cleaning up the hair a bit and adding some more volume to the face.

Another update:

Well, the class finished and I decided to go ahead and get this cast into bronze. <gulp!>
It's a pricey process, but a risk worth taking I think.
Liz had recommended the guys out at in the Liberties here in town, so I went with them. Leo was the guy I met and I have to say he was great, very accommodating and eager to show me everything that was going on. The overall cost for this will be around €1,200 for the silicon mold, the bronze casting itself and the mount. This is still an estimate as I haven't yet seen or decided on a mount. The silicon mold cost €200, the bronze casting €720, and I'm expecting the mount to be around €200. Just for those interested in the numbers! I know I found them interesting. For one, if I learn to cast my own molds, I could save a lot of money and just pay for the bronze part! Also, if I can carve my own bases out of stone, I'll be in a happier place too.

Anyway, I got to the foundry and this is what they showed me.

At first I was thrilled, Then after a few seconds I realised they were a bit rough, right? You ain't seen anything yet though! The close-ups show the true state of the wax.

As you can see there are all sorts of scratches, holes, and flaws all throughout the model. None of which were present in the clay. Quite a disappointment. Apparently this is the norm though, and a certain amount of cleanup is to be expected at this stage.

White spirits and soft cloth is your friend here apparently, so off I set. Leo had very kindly given me some black wax as well to help with any repairs which might be needed, and it came in very handy, also for doing additional sculpting such as changing her eyebrows, which I was never satisfied with in clay but never bothered to change. Now I had an opportunity to do so, so I did. They may look a little strange being in black as they are here, but that won't be the case for the final piece, so I'm not too worried about it.

So after a lot of cleaning (and I mean a LOT), this was the final result and this will probably be what I go back to the foundry with to get cast.

I'll update this again when I get the bronze part done.

Update 25/01/2015

So the bronze has been cast at the foundry. As you can imagine, there was much excitement for me seeing my first ever professionally cast bronze piece. This is it straight out of the ceramic shell and with a first pass wire brush scrub done to it (or so I'm told). There are lots of flaws and pits and scratches and all sorts of nasty things going on with it, but I'm assured these will all be fixed. I was encouraged to mark them with a purple marker to show what I wanted fixed and they said they'd look after that. I think I did manage to put the marker down before it ran out of ink... but yeah, someone in there is gonna seriously hate me.

Could I have made this any blurrier? Well yeah, if I'd been bouncing on a trampoline while taking the photo maybe. I just didn't have it with me...

I took some photos of the kinds of flaws that were in it when I saw it, will be interesting to see how many of them are fixed up and the difference once it's had the final pass.

 Upper lip hell

 The Temple of Scratches

Those cheeks are the pits...

Needless to say this entered Scratch-ville, did some donuts in the car park, burned some rubber and knocked over a few important local landmarks before crashing it's way through the barrier to Pits-ville and on to What-the-hell-happened-there-ville.
So, in a punitive measure, I've also asked for a highly smooth finish (a sandpaper grade of 220).

Following your Baser instincts
I will of course need a base for this, and I was pointed to a company called Artefaction who normally do marble fireplaces, and was told they might cut stone to suit a base too, and at a considerably cheaper cost than traditional stonemasons. So I donned my bargain hunting hat (we all have one!) and went out to them, and although their stone would be much more limited in dimensions (they get the marble at a precut thickness), I was able to get 2 pieces of polished black Kilkenny limestone for 35 euro each. A bargain! (throws precious bargain hat into the air, shoots two holes into it, and then immediately regrets doing that)

I have another piece I'm getting made at another foundry (I'm such a foundry slut), which I will blog about in another post (he said, in an attempt to introduce mystery and intrigue into an otherwise boring blog post), and for that I needed a more interesting base. I went with a stone called Light Imperador, which I loved and think will really suit the piece I'm getting done. That one came in at just 20 euro. Of course I'm now presented with the problem of mounting the bronze onto these bases, but I'll cross that bridge* when I come to it. <gulp!>

Marble ain't cheap, and you can't just take it for granite...

I have to say the black limestone seems a little milky to me, but I'm not exactly sure how it normally looks, so I'm guessing this is okay and I just don't know what I'm looking at. Might go for something else next time though. There was an option to go for a painted wooden base for about 20 euro, but for the sake of 15 euro more, I couldn't bring myself to look at the wood for too long without regretting it. The bronze deserves the marble!

Once it's been smoothed down by some poor soul, it'll be ready to receive a patina. I've already chosen the one I want for this, so the next images posted will hopefully be the head complete with final patination. For those interested, the patinas are put on using chemicals and a flamethrower.
Best. Job. Ever.

* Yeah, as stone puns go, that was pretty weak. Admittedly.

Final update
The patination process had to be done on the final piece. This is where the colour is added - via a frickin' flamethrower! I'd chosen a colour and texture from a small sample piece of bronze and asked for that on her face and hair. That was partially applied, and when I had seen a work in progress version of it with some cloudy grey spots at the back of her head and had tried to explain (unfortunately to someone NOT doing the patination) what I wanted, it got miscommunicated to the person doing the patina and I ended up with cake frosting for hair. Instead of dark hair with light semi-transparent cloudy grey areas, I got full on white. Luckily when I went out to review it again, the wax hadn't been added yet, so it was reversible. I went with a two tone brown instead, which I'm MUCH happier with, and Cast are great for letting you know they won't finish working on it until you're happy with it. Anna, who did the patination, was kind enough to let me watch her do it and make sure I was happy with the final colour.

Attacked by the whippy ice cream man

Salvage operation taking place

January 30th 2015
So I went out to collect the final piece today at They had done a wonderful job on the finish of it, the patina was beautiful and the sanding job on her face was very smooth and it had been mounted onto the stone base, complete with felt underside. I'm really happy with the quality of finish on it. Not so happy with the sculpture itself, the more I look at it, the more I'd like to change, but you live and learn! Anyway, hope you learned something from this blog post I certainly got lots out of the whole experience.

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"Stoney faced" silence (except for the sound of chiselling, which, let's face it, is really noisy)

So. September. That time of year when all you can think about is how long and boring the winter nights are gonna be, and how wouldn't it be cool if you did something useful with your evenings now that there's no light to be had, instead of watching crap tv or something.

Cue the evening class! Evening classes are the shit. Let's face it - they're just the shit. This year, because I've somehow managed to deprive myself of classes for two or three years, I decided to treat myself to two. Monday evenings are a clay modeling course (additive), and Tuesday evenings are stone carving (not additive, the other one - negative).

Normally stone carving is the domain of serious, contemplative, quasi-religious fare, so I decided to ditch that and carve out a little cartoon character instead. I'm nearing the end of over 5 years work on the Peter Rabbit cartoon series, so thought it'd be nice to celebrate/honour it by doing my favourite character - Benjamin bunny.

Having never carved before, I'll admit to being a little worried I wasn't gonna cut it... so would have to resort to chiselling instead (sorry, couldn't resist).

There are 6 classes of 3 hours each, and the first class was spent getting used to the chisel and carving out a flat plane. Class 2 was spent on Benjamin.

I had modelled the original character in 3D several years earlier so knew the model well. I asked a colleague to pose him (thanks Ciarán), as quite frankly I suck at using our rigs. This pose was printed out from 4 different views on A4 pages and as fortune would have it, perfectly aligned to the size of the stone selected for me on the course. Pure fluke!

Class 1

Poor Benjamin is buried in there somewhere, bless his cotton socks...

Class 2

At the end of class 1, I'd gotten this far. Impressed? 3 hours of hammering away at a block of stone and this is where I was? Yeah... hard going. Hits your confidence a little too! At this stage it was all about getting rid of planes I knew I could safely remove. The top of his hat was buried somewhere along the top of the slope you see here, and I was fast approaching his nose being somewhere on a flat plane on the front.

Class 3

By the end of the next 3 hour session, I was getting a silhouette from one side done and starting on the front. At this stage things are getting a little hairy. You're starting to lose your precious drawings, and are now starting to wing it a bit, but desperately trying to scratch out little markers where possible to keep the idea in your head of what's what and where's where.

Class 4

This was getting scary now. All of my drawings had been carved through, and I was now sort of flying by the seat of my pants. I was trying to make markings where possible to remind myself of where stuff lay, and struggling to get to grips with it. It just wasn't working out for me. Worse still, I had gotten to the point where I knew the next class I was either gonna royally screw it up, or finally maybe get the hang of it a bit.

Class 5...  D-day

So today was D-day. I went in, skirted around things a bit, hit it a few smacks, chipped away a little, and then finally just started saying, "screw it, just go for it!". Turns out, midway through hacking away at a piece I wasn't sure I should be hacking away at, I had a bit of an epiphany. I made this 3d character on the computer. I've watched him for 5 years solid on my screen. Of course I can recreate him! I needed to get away from the careful markings and removal of "safe planes", and just make him. Just make him the way I know he is. It's just stone. If I go too far with something, I'll just make him slightly smaller. Who cares! So yeah, about an hour in this happened and then I basically just went at it, trusting myself to just carve away and do what felt right, and things sped up enormously! He's still far from finished, and I still struggle with the chisels, but today was a big day in feeling confident that it could be done. I just need practise. And I'm now fully aware of that, and no longer scared of making a mistake in the stone. It was a big enough moment to encourage me to try more of these in the future. They're doable, they absolutely are, it's just a case of practise.

I actually can't wait to get back to him now, and am looking forward to having another crack at it. The back of the stone has been kept on so far to help give some support, and to be honest, it looks like a bookend, which was kinda cool, but I'm gonna slice off the back of it and finish him in the round, just because that was my original idea and I still like the idea of working all the way around the model. We only have one class left, so I'm not gonna get it all done, To sort out this regrettable situation, I organised a skip and emptied out my shed (sorry spiders, but I need the space now), hopefully soon I'll get my hands on some chisels and a worktop and finish him off in there. We'll see!

Class 6

Well, today (14th Oct 2014) we went in for the last class, and I had a chance to knock the back off him and finish him a bit more "in the round" as it were. It felt good to see the back of him, but I was also surprised at how much was left to do. I managed to make good inroads, but he's still looking a little fat. Luckily for me, I've been told I can come in on Saturday for a few hours for free to work on him some more. Just as well, as all of the details need cleaning and tightening up.

Anyway, more images.

As I said, he's too squat, and still looking very fat, so I'm gonna have to work on him a lot more, and I'm not sure Saturday for a couple of hours is gonna cut it, so I'm going to buy a chisel, mallet and rasp and hopefully get him done over the coming weeks in my shed or something. Just have to get a worktop of some description sorted out...

So we had our last class and I didn't get it finished (Boo! Hiss! Down with this sort of thing!).
However, I got it close enough to post up a photo that will have to do until I get the tools to finish it myself. I'm off to Italy soon and will pick up some tools while over there as I'll be in Carrara on a stone carving course. (woot, woot!)

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