Sculpture Creation

You may be wondering, “How do they do that? What mystic and complicated process is followed? What muse is sought? What convoluted and technical procedure is required to produce such work?”

Or something like that, anyway. Well creatin’ artwork ain’t a picnic.

Well, we’ve received lots of questions over the years. Do we just paint over flowers and animals with bronze paint? Or dunk them in a vat of boiling bronze? Isn’t that the stuff they make faucets out of (no, that’s brass)? One gentleman was convinced Susan’s Tuatara was a casting of one we must have caught. Well it’s time we cleared up some of the myths and misconceptions. In short, it’s time, as the tabloids say, to tell all.

It all starts with an idea. Or rather, inspiration for an idea. We spend a lot of time out in nature, seeking this inspiration from twisting vines, rusty railroad bolts, friendly robins, elusive kingfishers, easily photographed flowers and insects, and almost impossible to photograph fantails.

Usually we go alone on trips like this. Our friends will walk a 30 minute track in 15 minutes. We will take 4 hours. Often the entire family will stop enraptured to discuss, photograph, marvel, and argue about a tiny flower, a scene, or a dead beetle.

Anything can take our fancy, and often does. Bringing together and juxtaposing elements, in our minds, a piece can take form, and inspire us to begin the work that evening, or let it fester and grow inside us for years. On the concept art page, you can see some of our thoughts and feelings that have managed to escape onto paper.

Once an idea is established, we begin. Plasticine or a foundry modelling wax are the ideal mediums to work in, for us. Unlike woodwork, you can take away and add to it again and again, countless times until you are happy with the result.

Plasticine is soft and excellent for fast working, where you want to capture the form fluidly, within a few hours, and at this stage inspiration meets the real world, and you almost feel like a channel of something creating through you. I think this is where our subconscious meets the conscious world. Things you notice, and observe, without even knowing you have observed them, express themselves in our art. That’s why we feel it is so important to experience the real world, to spend time with the creatures, plants, and environs that we create.

Modelling wax is a hard medium, and requires heating to be able to work it. But it captures detail like no other medium. We use a variety of tools, but our favourite are our ex-dental tools.

Once the basic form exists, and we are happy with it, and if the piece is destined to be part of a limited edition, we will make a mould.

At this point, if, say, the piece is of a bird, he might have feather shapes, and detailing around the feet and eyes, but have no miniscule detail; no feather details, no skin texturing.

Taking a mould at this stage is crucial, because later, when the piece is given its final detail, and sent to the foundry, it will be destroyed in the foundry process to create the bronze.

The mould will be used to create the forms for the rest of that edition. When the wax comes out of the mould, well. That’s when the rubber hits the road.

Creating lifelike detail with us is a passion bordering on a seriously crazed obsession. There are a hundred little tricks we’ve got up our sleaves to create all manner of textures and effects, but frankly, we can’t tell you; as you would have to sign the pledge, and the initiation involves weeding our farm and battling fierce weasels (Disclaimer; that was a joke.).

This stage can take months, even years. Sometimes working on details, such as the subtle and almost imperceptible skin texture of a frog, slowly drive us mad. But, hey, that just adds to the aura of mystique that surrounds us artists. One of the things that really inspired us, in our early years, was the historical fact that some of the Egyptian reliefs and carvings have detail that is so fine; it cannot be seen without magnification.

Once all the detailing is done, the piece is sent (a word meaning a tense and slow drive while we lovingly transport our life’s work over rocky and winding terrain) to the foundry. There, the highly skilled and clever master foundry craftsmen will begin the equally painstaking and detailed process of casting our work into bronze.

First, the piece is prepared for the pouring process by adding “sprues” (try saying that fast, ten times). This ensures a flow of bronze to all parts of the piece.

Then, the piece is coated in a ceramic. Several times. This can take a few weeks to build up a coating strong enough to handle the intense heat of molten bronze.

One this is ready, the casting shell is heated, and all our lovely wax is melted out (there now, it’s alright, you’ll see). What is left is effectively a negative of our creation (yes, I know, don’t be so negative).

It is into this negative shell, that the molten bronze is poured into. When it is cool, do you know what the highly skilled and trained master foundry craftsmen do?

They smash it.

You wouldn’t think so, but yes, they do.

I always imagine this is a fun stage. Any ceramic left over is eaten away by an acid bath (which is also good for exfoliating dead skin, but not recommended, as it can have side effects).

At this point, they cut the sprues of the piece. The areas left have to be “fettled”, meaning having our lovely detail put back on. This again is a highly difficult process, and one in which our highly skilled master foundry craftsmen excel at.

Once finished, they will clean up the piece by blasting it (“blast the piece!”) with bead-based sand-blasting. This creates an amazing translucent effect, which really comes out after the Patina step.

You don’t know what a patina is? Well, read on, because I’m going to tell you (Yes I know you’re going to tell me, you say. Well, let me tell you, I reply. Well, you say, get on with it. I am, I reply, if you will only let me…STOP TALKING TO YOURSELF!).

Ok. Breathe.

Well, they apply a patina, which is a substance that creates a chemical reaction with the bronze, creating amazing effects.

In natural circumstances, over a long period of time, the air itself reacts with bronze, creating fascinating patinas of its own.

None of this affects the integrity of the bronze. Archaeologists are still digging up bronzes that are thousands of years old that have remained unaffected by entombment, saltwater immersion, and pigeons.

After the patina is applied, the bronze returns, a wandering prodigal, to home. There we apply our secret and mysterious arts to creating finishes: splashes of colour, subtle shades, and patinas of our own (you know about those, don’t you?).

After this, the bronze is sealed. This is to halt the natural patina process, and to keep the colours in. After this, we may sometimes add more layers of special colour, to particular areas of the bronze; the light green flash of a kingfisher’s wing. The evasive ripeness of raspberries. The almost imperceptible shade of lush, alive leaves. The brown crackly brittleness of dead fronds. The melting grey of the soft down on a fledgling’s breast.

These touches make our artwork what it is.

But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. Enjoy!

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