Sea Serpent Relief: Update 20
Working on the layered elements, adding lights behind each layer. The first layer is bolted to the frame, the second and third layers are secured with epoxy. The clamps hold the pieces tightly together until the epoxy has fully cured.
This image reminds me of being at the same stage in the Seascape Relief when I took the following picture.
Sea Serpent Relief: Update 18
I find this shot interesting because when I took it, I found the surface of my work table to be busy and full of activity. This was before the full fury of my artistic regeneration hit, and now when I look at my table just a scant two weeks later, I find it to be chaotic and full of an almost overwhelming sense of passionate creation. And much messier.
Sea Serpent Relief: Update 2
Having built one 4 x 4 relief, we started the second by fabricating an identical frame. As promised, I rewarded my three assistants by fabricating three smaller frames for their own reliefs.
As the first relief was built during summer break, the beasties got to see the artistic process from the very beginning stages of design and pencil drawings, all the way through the various stages of fabrication, right up to delivery and installation of the completed work. They were integral in solving design issues, critiquing work in progress, and supplying much-needed pairs of steady hands.
I talked out loud for weeks, walking them through my thought process. Even while I was standing still and just staring at the material I tried to verbalize the various issues I was contemplating, asking questions: 'If we don't put the backing board into the frame before we weld the tabs in place on the back, then we're never going to be able to get the board into the frame - it doesn't bend, right? But if we put the wood in first and try to weld, we're going to char the board - and we have to paint the background on it, right? So how do we get the board in place and protect it from the flame and heat while we weld the securing tabs in place?"
Then I encouraged them to solve the problems, and asked further questions until they came up with a workable solution.
All three were very interested in designing their own reliefs drawing dozens of proposals, working on mockups with bits of steel and wood . And of course, they enjoyed painting and working on their stone carvings. As the oldest, Kelly had the best focus, able to shift her attention from her own design work back to the Seascape design over and over again during the course of a day. I think some days she was painting a canvas, pausing to help me, then drawing a bit, then assisting the little ones, then back to painting her canvas again - all at the same time.
During the busiest days, all three would stop their own projects to help me and we worked as a real team. Very precious days . . .
Sea Serpent Relief: Update 1
The second piece for my friend who opened a wine bar this summer is nearly complete, so I thought I'd give you a visual tour of the steps we've gone through to complete this piece of art.
Three of the four pieces needed to create the steel frame sit on the work bench. The edges will be finished with the grinding wheel so that I have four identical pieces, each with 45 degree angle cuts on both ends.
Seascape Relief: Update 22
We finished the relief.
I signed my name to the bottom of the piece and gave the outside edges one final coat of lacquer. Then we stepped back and looked at it in the sun. We were all sweating profusely - it has been so hot this summer - the concrete outside the studio just absorbs and radiates heat. There was a long pause and finally the beasties went, "Wow." I stared at the large steel frame - still looking for little details that needed tweaking - and tried to accept the notion that the work was complete.
My patron was so excited to have it finished that he came by that day to pick it up - before I could even have it properly photographed. Transportation went smoothly. We picked a spot on the wine bar's wall, keeping in mind that there will be another relief beside it in a couple of months, and then Kelly and I began drilling holes. We placed the heavy-duty hanger and then hung the relief.
This is how it looked on the wall right after we installed it.
Seascape Relief: Update 18
There are many playful elements in the piece, some obvious - the vibrant colors, bright lights, simplistic shapes - some subtle. In my original drawing I only had one building that had eyes, but as I painted deep into the night, some of the buildings' personalities started to make themselves known . . .
Seascape Relief: Update 16
The background has been painted, the lights secured in their curving brackets. One whole set of lights was damaged in the process and the whole 24 foot strand had to be removed, replaced with a working set, and reinstalled. All told there are 64 feet of lighting elements in the piece.
The clouds have been ground down to reveal some silvery steel, but some mill scale remains. Thus they are both dark and light. I lacquered them to preserve the effect and in this picture they rest on the edge of the frame, ready to be installed on their aluminum brackets above the lights.
Lights embedded in the frame are up higher than the clouds, in terms of depth of placement in the relief, so that they shine down onto the burnished steel. Thus the clouds are silhouetted by the blue lights and colored background, and also lightly reflective of the lights above them.
All the buildings have been cut and arranged for final placement. I am working on the spacing of the buildings in terms of the depth of each one, and must figure out a way to secure them to the background without marring the smooth lines of their shape and style. I cannot weld them - the heat would warp their lines, the paint would burst into flames and the lights would become blackened char. Nor do I want to drill a ton of holes in the steel and have all sorts of hardware showing.
Once the spacing of the buildings has been set and I have made adequate drawings to show their position in relation to each other, I must remove all of them and paint them one by one.
Then I must put them back in the right order - the right distance apart from each other in terms of their two-dimensional location, and also in the right depth from each other in the third dimension. And then magically secure them so that when the piece is stood upright, everything stays in place.
Seascape Relief: Update 15
I've resumed writing about my artistic life, but I haven't returned to the whole social aspect of maintaining a dynamic site. I haven't just been slow to respond to questions or requests - I've ignored them outright. I make no excuses nor do I claim I've been working on it. I haven't. I have been doing what is necessary for me, right now: raise the beasties and fall into a wonderful creative maelstrom.
I've been pressing forward with this all-consuming need to turn this Simple Idea into a working piece of art. The kids are focused, happy, silly-rambunctious-giddy-playful-goofy-vibrant and totally awesome. And Kelly has taken to the whole design process in a way that I couldn't really anticipate.
This has been such a great experience for her - not just 'watching' the process of seeing a piece of art develop from concept to drawing to fabrication to completion, but physically and mentally participating as an assistant, a problem-solver, and as a very talented designer. I've never had help on this level before. The fact that my assistant is my eldest beastie is just the icing on the cake.
Together, we have turned a dusty, stagnant studio into a thriving cauldron of activity. I've repaired every piece of art in the place that was gathering dust, created a new chair/table hybrid, finished the first of a new series of reliefs, and built a coffee table from scratch in a day. Right now I'm creative and productive on a level that I haven't been in 11 years. It's thrilling. And my kids are the reason I'm creating again - this summer has been amazing.
I'll just let that sink in a little . . . I'm not just making a little art here and there on the side. I'm a working artist.
Okay, so that's a long way of saying I haven't answered anyone's questions. I'm sitting down now to do so. I'm also going to visit each of your sites, and I'm going to create a blog roll of all the very nice people who for whatever reason have hung around for five years and still comment - you are all crazy to still be here. Everyone else in their right minds left a long time ago.
Seascape Relief: Update 13
The painting of the background was one of the steps I was most concerned about. My best friend in college - who himself is a great painter - used to characterize a good deal of my two-dimensional work as "mud" due to the fact I would go over and over a painting to the point that the colors disappeared into a murky, brown goo.
I was determined not to let that need for perfection get the better of me this time. Perhaps it is good that I haven't painted in a long time - I could unlearn some old habits and create a new dynamic.
I wanted to capture something almost childishly simple: the fading colors of sunset leading upward to twilight and beyond. And I also didn't want to take the focus away from the steel buildings and clouds that would be layered on top of them. The background had to be interesting but not distracting.
So I gathered up my brushes and my paints and attacked the large wooden backing board in one great sweep of an evening. I trusted myself and my instincts.
And I think I nailed it.
Seascape Relief: Update 11
The only time to check the progress was late at night when it was totally dark - I wanted to have a nice even glow around the buildings, and have clean lines when viewed from extreme side angles.
The city needed to have a predominantly white back lighting, while the clouds needed blue and the fading sunset a deep red.
The brackets tended to break easily, the lights themselves did not want to stay in place and there were many nights that I had layers of bricks holding everything down as I tried to train the lights to stay the way I wanted them to. The lights look a bit naked sitting there on the backing board, but I wanted to show you the steps in between the really cool stages.
After breaking several dozen bracket as I screwed them into the board, I had to go by more lights just to cannibalize the parts from them to create more brackets.
Seascape Relief: Update 10
I'm sitting here with a glass of Garnacha, flush with an overlapping array of amazing emotions. I hung the relief today on my studio wall. This is a momentus occassion for me.
First and foremost it did not come crashing down. Considering how much steel is in the various layers of the work, I was more than a little worried. After putting the buildings in place yesterday, I realized I could no longer pick it up all by myself with my arms stretched out like a giant albatross.
I started to wonder just how massive it was. I brought my scale out today to make sure the heavy-duty mirror hanger I purchased was going to be adequate for the job. The package said it would support 200 pounds. I asked Alex to get my scale from my bedroom and when I got on as I held the relief it added 78 pounds to my weight.
I found a stud on my studio wall and we hung it from there at eye level. I held my hands underneath it as I let go, waiting for it to fall. Nothing happened. I pulled on it. Felt secure. Then I stepped back and took a deep breath.
Words don't really do justice.
It's so different from everything I've created in my life. It's like looking at someone else's work. Even still, I couldn't help but grin. I've gotten so accustomed to seeing it on the studio floor that I was almost giddy to see it on the wall.
As I sipped on my wine tonight, I flipped open my hard-bound sketch book and glanced at my original sketch. It is dated May 19. That means I've gone from concept to completion in 2 months. That's pretty remarkable for me, particularly when you consider I've spent 3 weeks in the Bahamas and week at Pawley's Island with my beasties.
There are so many things I want to say, and I'm not going to write any of them. This is just really a great night for me.
Seascape Project: Update 9
The night-time view of the Seascape Relief. This is a taste of things to come . . .
The simplest ideas are sometimes the very hardest to pull off. True inspiration feels like discovery, as if you're not really thinking of an idea but simply uncovering it bit by bit. When someone asks you how you came up with it, you hesitate because you can't point to one event that served as the genesis. You have that blissful internal moment that feels like lightning erupting in your heart where you realize, "Wow, I really did come up with this by myself."
You can't point to a specific artist or work that you drew inspiration from, or think of a special trip where you saw some amazing architecture or visited some museum, or even think of some piece of music that drew you away from the constricting bonds of reality.
You think of what an amazing feeling it is to be experiencing something so raw and full of potential as a moment of inspiration and while you search for the right thing to say and feel like a dozen seconds have gone by you realize it's only been a moment. Half a beat later you smile and shrug, unsure of how to explain what you are only just coming to discover within yourself.
This idea - this almost childishly simply sketch - has captured my spirit this summer. It has galvanized my energy and become a driving force in our lives here. The children have not only learned the rhythm and routine of design and creation, and the hard work that goes along with seeing a project through step by step, but have also become an integral part of the process. Kelly in particular has been an amazing assistant. While Alexander and Isabel prefer to create on their own, Kelly will stay focused for hours at a time and set her own desires to build aside to assist in tackling the problems we are facing in the seascape project.
And while I really had no plans to turn this summer into an intense artistic workshop - much less tackle a project that would consume our time and energy on this level - this idea, this inspiration, has demanded just that. And after burying so many vital things for so many years, this was one idea that seemed to demand attention.
Plus it seemed deceptively simple enough that I thought I could just knock it out quickly. I guess it's a good thing that I'm a terrible judge of just how long something will take, or just how hard it will be. I mean, who would choose to be a stay-at-home parent if they really knew ahead of time . . .
I know I still would, but I also know I'm a stubborn bastard who has discovered that love is an all-powerful driving force. It's just nice to have a complementary inspiration that is propelling me into new and fascinating places as an artist at the same time.
But I digress. This idea seemed so simple. Build a relief incorporating what I know with one or two medias that I'm unfamiliar with. Just a little steel and some lights, perhaps a bit of painting. What could be so hard?
It has been amazingly difficult to execute. I have stubbornly refused to look anywhere for help. Perhaps naively, I have not wished to be influenced by another artist's work - even if it meant solving design issues. No short-cuts, no other influences. The piece might be a catastrophic waste of time and energy, or worse, simply be mundane, but it would be all my doing.
Knowing that I wanted to figure this out for myself, I haven't rushed into the parts that I didn't understand. All the things I had no idea how I could pull off I just let simmer in the back of my subconscious mind as I enjoyed traveling with my beasties. I attacked the parts that I knew how to build - a steel frame was the first thing I constructed - and then step by step I've worked on the rest.
True inspiration drives you mad if you don't figure out a way to bring it to life. Every idea I've had in this project has led to a puzzle. Figuring out the engineering has become a process of discovery.
I have fallen into a lovely routine where I sleep in the mornings, then have coffee and let the dream-state slowly evaporate from my system as the kids play games and read books in their pajamas. The cat stretches out on the wood floors in a state of fluffy grace, giving off the impression that she might never move again.
I work in the studio for 4 to 6 hours, assisted by Kelly and sometimes mixing in other art projects for the younger two. We tackle the design issues step by step. I think out loud, so that Kelly can follow along as I grimace and scowl and carry on. We sweat a lot - it's amazingly hot and humid here. We take breaks to have snacks and play baseball. We ride bikes.
Then we tackle whatever that night has to offer. Soccer or dinner or whatever day of the week it is. We relax and I see everyone off to bed. Then I pour myself a glass of wine and wander back into the studio. I look at everything from a fresh vantage. I take my time and try to discover the piece as if it was new to me: I pick over little pieces of metal, I fuss with tiny flaws, I yank off pieces of steel and set to totally reworking them. I experiment. I take risks. I work until deep into the early hours. And then I collapse in bed.
Tonight, I wandered into the dark studio and turned on a switch and this is what I saw.
There are still clamps in place and some bricks holding down bits of steel that are bonding together through chemical epoxy, but I believe that tomorrow I will be finished. I will continue leading you along the process of discovery and posting updates in the time-line, but I couldn't help but share this moment as it happened in my life. I have almost achieved success with my simple little idea.
Seascape Relief: Update 6
Once we were satisfied with the overall design of the cityscape, we carefully documented the placement of each building, both in relation to the steel frame and to each other. We also measured the depths of the buildings in the relief. Kelly drew detailed blueprints and we photographed the mockup so that we could remove the buildings and then replace them at will as we worked on the lighting elements.
There were a host of design issues to tackle:
Seascape Relief: Update 5
Note for those of you who asked about rapid progress of this piece: you are getting a time-compressed series of updates. The original drawing was made on May 19 and I have been working on getting pieces ready for my friend since mid-May. The relief is nearing completion now and I have taken the time to go back through some photographs and put together a visual timeline. I have also been urged by my friends to resume writing here, so I am working toward both ends at once. You get daily posts and also don't have to wait very long in this particular case to see how the sculpture turns out. Just keep coming back every day.
In this image you can see buildings, the light elements behind them and the beginnings of clouds that I am designing. I am playing with the forms, trying to capture a certain visual flair while also figuring out how to make everything fit together seamlessly.
Seascape Relief: Update 3
Using my original pencil drawing as a template, we cut out a series of buildings using a jigsaw. Each tower was cut to scale, matching the original dimensions. Buildings were labeled with chalk and set on the studio floor. After several days, the skyline began to take shape. Adjustments to height and width were made as I tried to re-create the feel of the composition. Several new buildings were added to the mix and a decision was made to create three clusters of buildings, as if you were looking at the city from a distance and could peer down two of the long boulevards.
Seascape Relief: Update 1
A friend is opening a wine bar in Mooresville. He came to see me and said, "I want you to put whatever you want inside. I'll take you to see the space." A number of emotions flooded through me. I was first and foremost touched that he came to me - it's always an honor when a friend wants to show your work. This being my friend's first-ever restaurant endeavor, it felt particularly raw and special.
I was immediately excited about the prospect of creating some new pieces, wondering how I could best help him. I tried to listen to the details of his timetable, but already my mind was racing ahead. What could I build that would make his establishment unique and amazing?
As we began driving north to see the space I realized that I was also more than a little nervous. I did not want to become overwhelmed. There is a very real sense inside me that I have pushed well out past the breakers on a huge curling wave that I've managed to ride all year long. I've used up all my resources during the last nine months, in fact I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have actually broken the First Law of Thermodynamics in the process, burning through more resources than I possessed as I battled the Mola mola, created art, coached soccer, and raised my Beasties.
At times I seem to have skipped through the pain and challenges on wit and guile alone. Or perhaps through sheer stubborn determination. One way or the other, I have not only survived but I have had an amazing year with the kids and now the end of the school year is in sight and if I can just make it to the beach - both literally and figuratively - I can recharge, renew, and reinvigorate myself and my little family while we travel, read books and enjoy the simplest and purest joy of all: simply being around each other.
So as we're driving to the construction site my mind is full of questions. I am wondering, Can I do this? Can I do this well? And what will the personal cost be? But as he unlocks the glass doors and we walk into the empty space, I dismiss these fears and concentrate on the artistic challenge.
One of the most dangerous things to do is tell an artist they can do anything they want. No boundaries, no restrictions . . . It sounds good for about 30 seconds and then you start to go into brainstorming overload as ideas begin clashing with each other, with reality, with time-management. There are so many ideas that sometimes a truly great one gets drowned out by the swirling maelstrom of limitless opportunities. Or the reverse can happen and you can quickly go into a state of brain-freeze where no ideas surface - at least nothing that is remotely realistic.
You have to imagine a passionate front-runner, something that you can both imagine and create. Or at least have a reasonable confidence that you can figure a way out to create it along the way.
I stared at the blank walls and tried to imagine my friend's long mahogany bar and custom cabinetry . . . I realized that I wanted to do something totally new. Something I've never done before.
No drippy metal, no towering angels or massive creatures. No contemporary furniture. No matter how cool one thing or another might be, I really felt a powerful drive to go in a new direction. To swallow the nervous fear I felt and create something totally unique, not just as a work of art but unique to me as an artist. An entire new direction.
This of course compounded my fear. Why choose this moment to go in an entirely new direction? Why must I add layers of complication and new challenges on top of an already wide-open commission? I can see all the pitfalls ahead of me. Summer is coming and I will have the kids and simply want to head to the beach and build sandcastles. I could put him off until next September and enjoy my treasured free time with the little ones . . .
Or I could sit down, focus my energies and come up with something totally new and involve the Beasties in every stage of the project's development, teaching them how a commission goes from brainstorming to material management to fabrication and let them see just how complicated and invigoratingly-rewarding a process it is to take a drawing of something you think is really cool and have no idea how you're going to build it, and then figure out a way to make it come into existence.
Three days later I picked up a large sketch book, my colored pencils and I headed to the bar where I first met my friend. I ordered a bottle of wine and started drawing.
I decided I wanted to build a series of reliefs filled with steel and light. As is often the case, my first drawing ended up being my strongest vision. I've never made a relief before and it has been a long time since I created any forced-perspective artwork, so I really had no idea how I would fabricate the sketches I was making.
I began designing and fabricating some chairs for the bar while the kids finished up the school year. I shared my ideas with Kelly and we poured over drawings, talking about how we might be able to create a large-scale steel relief with a dynamic lighting element involved.
My friend came by the studio to see how the furniture was progressing and I showed him my sketches. He said, "They're awesome. Do it," and with that simple affirmation I began working on the first relief.
A 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of 16 gauge sheet metal awaits the jigsaw. Also pictured: blue pitching machine, Alexander and Isabel working on their soapstone sculptures, black noise cancellation headphones, red jigsaw