From Start, to the Finished Product at your Doorstep
1. The Idea
Art has to do with aesthetics, function and emotion. It can be so many things – it can be soft, simple or calm, it can be bold or aggressive if you wish. There seems to be a calling or an impulse or an irritation in our environment that prompts in us a need to discover and a need to express ourselves.
“There seems to be a calling, an impulse or an irritation …”
My most inspired moments occur during early morning walks on the farm – the shapes, forms and textures enthrals me, and along with peaceful solitude, ideas come flowing. Sometimes, but to be truthful, rarely, I’ll get an idea when I sit and ponder over a glass of wine. I have also been wakened by an idea in the middle of the night.
2. Armature, Tools and Material
An armature is a wire structure that helps with the initial form and dimensions of a sculpture. It also adds strength, stability and support to the sculpture. I use aluminum or steel wire. I use a number of products to build up the form: It is anything from tin foil to add volume, to bongo clay, two-part epoxy, plaster of paris, wax, rhinolite, or pottery clay. Bongo clay (also known as plasticine) is a non-hardening clay that I buy from Sculpture Casting Services. Rhinolite is the powder that is mixed with water to skim ceilings. I get the pottery clay and most of my carving tools from Cape Pottery Supplies.
3. Working on the Master Piece
The original work is called the Artist Proof or AP. It takes me 3 to 12 weeks to finish the work. Often it takes much longer since I work on a few pieces at any given time. The process includes working, reworking, building up, cutting back, while constantly turning to view the sculpture from all angles. Good advice is to never focus just on a specific area – the work as a whole must take shape and the finer detail should only be worked on in the latter stages. It is also true that the sculpting material (i.e clay or wax), sometimes dictates what it wants to be, and then the initial idea rolls into something else quite unexpectedly.
4. Making the Mould
The mould consists of a rubber mould that is protected by a fibreglass casing. The simplest form is a two-part mould, but often it consists of more than two parts if the work is more complex. The different parts lock into each other with keys and grooves to ensure that it fits well and secure when it is used for wax castings. The silicone rubber consists of a two-part liquid. I use Smooth-On silicon that I buy at AMT Composites. Here you have a number of options from fast to slow reacting or brush-on or pouring elastomers. I more often than not make a big mess when I make moulds – I’ve had colourful rubber on my shoes, floors and walls 😉
5. First Casting: Wax
In order to prep a work for the foundry it has to be in wax. I have an old electric cooking casserole that is filled with wax. It is pitch black and beautiful and it is mesmerising to watch and smell it as it begins to melt. The melted wax gets poured into the silicone mould at a thickness of roughly 4 mm to create a duplicate or positive of the original sculpture. Once the parts are in wax, it needs to be melted together along the different mould-lines to form the replica of the original work. It then gets touched up to remove defects. Here one also has the option to reshape or deconstruct the work like in the case of the torso on the photograph.
6. Gating and Ceramic Dipping
At the foundry very skilled artisans use a network of wax rods, called sprues and gates that is attached to the wax positive of the sculpture to create a channeling system. This is allow air to escape and to create a channeling system for the bronze pouring later. A ‘pouring cup’ is also added – this will later be used to pour the melted bronze into the whole structure. Now the whole structure gets dipped and dried a number of times into a slurry mixture with very fine sand to create a hard shell around the wax. When these dry out it hangs in a cupboard – it looks much like carcasses at a butchery, except that it is white …
7. Melting out the Wax and Casting
Once the shell is thick and strong enough after many coatings, it is placed into a high temperature water bath where the wax melts out of the ceramic shell and floats on top of the water. Once the ceramic shell is empty of wax it is taken to the pouring section at the foundry. Here, when the molten bronze is ready, it will get poured into the ceramic shell. This is particularly exciting to watch. Apart from the workers wearing thick heat protective shields, clothing, cloves and boots, the liquid bronze looks spectacular – it is the colour of gold, and it makes big lazy bubbles …
8. Breaking Out, Sandblasting and Fettling
Once the ceramic, now filled with bronze, has cooled down the ceramic gets carefully chipped away with chisels, hammers and other tools to release the bronze sculpture. Now it goes through a process of sandblasting, welding, grinding and polishing in the fettling department. The whole process goes from one department to the other where highly skilled artisans, each trained and specialized to perform a specific process, gives it their full attention. This may take many hours.
From delivering the wax sculpture to the foundry, the whole process takes normally 6 – 8 weeks for completion. I take my work to Fusion Five Foundry.
Oxidation is a natural process that colours bronze over a period of time. To control the oxidation or to add other colours to a sculpture it finally goes to the patina department. This is very exciting to watch. The bronze sculpture gets heated with a gas torch while chemical solutions are applied. These chemicals react with the bronze and changes its colour. Different combinations can be used to get different effects. The different combinations that the foundry has developed over the past 17 years each have a name. The blue/green reaction on the photograph of the deconstructed torso is called tiffany, for instance.
10. Mounting, Wrap, Pack and Deliver
During the process, the artist may visit the foundry to do a quality check. Right at the end the mounting is discussed, or if it has been discussed before and, re-affirmed. The most common mounting is a stainless-steel block with leather at the bottom, but one has a variety of options that ranges from wooden blocks to crystal.
It is always a joyous affair to collect a work that is completed. One is as excited at the client who has probably waited 2 months for the work. At this point the piece is weighed, wrapped and boxed and it is ready for shipping. All works can be shipped world-wide. I use Star Express as my preferred shipping agent.