From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

Posts Tagged ‘materials

Art Hack

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In general language, a hack can mean someone who doesn’t know what they are doing (who hacks where they should cut skillfully).  A hack job is a roughly done one.  On the other hand we also say “she just couldn’t hack it” when we mean she could not do the job successfully… which implies that a hack is a kind of success- perhaps a marginal one.  Amidst the computer geeks who surround me now it means other things.

In common knowledge of computer geeks hacking is breaking into a system.  But among geeks, a hack can also be a brilliant and unorthodox solution.  Something outside the books that may be held together with the equivalent of duct-tape- rough but functional.  Sometimes it is something that cuts through pages of code and does the same thing with two lines in a way no one has thought of before.

In short, for geeks a hack is a surprising solution outside of conventional solutions that does the job. There is even a website called Lifehacker that offers such short cut ideas on everything from wiring to parenting (with a healthy dose of programming hacks).  I rather like the geek definition.

I’ve often thought of assembling a book of art hacks- favorite tricks from a variety of artists).  For today though, I can report that my art hack of creating a foam form using a fabric mold and expandable foam was a success.  There are things I would do differently (ex: the latex worked but stretched so next time I’ll do an outside layer in denim to hold the form true), but on the whole I have a basic form I can carve down a bit and shell with fiberglass and epoxy.

I ended up using safety pins, cord and clothes-hangers to hang the form upside-down in order to fill it.  I’ll have to do a second pour (the stretching took up some of the volume that would have brought the foam to the top of the mold), but the process is a good one.

I find that for every new type of piece I do I’m creating a new process somewhere along the line.  I think the readiness to do that is probably necessary to creating truly unique work.

For those of you just tuning in, this form is for a full-sized figure sculpture.  I will cover the finished foam form in fiberglass and epoxy, hollow it out, give it vents and house the projector in it.  The projector will project up through the neck, hit a single-surface mirror and shine out through the mask and eyes of the glass head.  The figure will be wearing a white 1880’s gown.  Pictures of the other parts in progress are up in previous posts.

Written by Mary Corey March

May 1, 2010 at 4:40 am

Kiln survival

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unmolding the glass head

I’ve just un-molded the head and thankfully things went more or less alright in the kiln.  The defects that happened are in places where they don’t matter (under the hair line).  No fractures, no breaks.  There are a few discolorations inside the face, possibly from stray material in the broken glass I used.  In future I’ll know not to use glass someone else has broken- unknowns are too likely.

A trace of carbon, probably from some wax trapped in a small corner caused some discoloration on the tip of the mask’s bird-tail (seen in the photo).

Still-= the parts that matter are clear.  I was expecting and even hoping for a little distortion in the image, so bubbles are fine.  I was actually planning to warp the images I projected.  I’m waiting to see how much the glass warps the image before I start though.

She came out well.

One thought I’m having is that even if I sandblast the areas besides the mask and eyes it may still be too transparent and too clear rather than white.  I might get a better effect if I used a thin layer of oil with wax medium worked into the skin.  Have to see how well (or if) it will hold though.  I imagine that once it’s sandblasted the surface will take wax nicely.  It would give it a little more opacity without going opaque and a more skin-like texture.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 23, 2010 at 9:28 pm

mask on, and now to the kiln…

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The project is coming along.  I used the shape of Simone’s mask almost exactly.

I added a little bit of detail on the top edge and over the eyes in the style of a Venetian mask to help distinguish it from some sort of super-hero mask (which I think the context, clothes and hair will do the rest of the way).  For some reason with the mask on she reminds me of Athena, who has no mask (but perhaps it is similar to the helmet she is often shown with).

The wax sculpture is now invested in the plaster and needs to be melted out and the plaster given time to cure before I can get the glass in and load it into the kiln.  The red parts in the picture are “sprews”- added bits that get removed in the cold-working process that help prevent bubbles forming in the glass.

I haven’t done anything with glass before, but firing a glass kiln is much like firing a ceramics kiln (which I have done lots of).  The most atheistic people will start praying to the kiln gods during this process- only half in jest.  When you put something into the kiln you just have to let it go and hope that everything works out as it should.  You can control many parts of the process, but ultimately you never know what can happen in there.  So… I will put it into the kiln next Wednesday and say my little prayers to the kiln gods… and hope that everything that I put into the sculpture comes out in the glass… and doesn’t pour all over the kiln, crack the mold, or do one of many other things that can happen in the kiln.

Then the long process of cold-working (removing sprews, detailing, adding texture, etc.).

In the meantime I’m figuring out how to do the hands, and I’ll have to see if I can find some mannequin arms that work.  If not, I’ll be building those as well.  The sewing continues and I plan to do the bustle next.

The structure of bustles is fascinating stuff.  I’m thinking of all kinds of things I can do for making a piece of clothing that shows the bustle structure itself… just for fun, when this project is done.

Written by Mary Corey March

April 2, 2010 at 3:27 am

Face sculpted

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Well, aside from the inevitable thousand tiny touch-ups, the face is done.  I’m going to make a mold of her before I start trying out the mask options or put her in the kiln.  I could easily destroy her with a mask that I decide doesn’t work, and accidents happen in the kiln.

It’s nice to sculpt again.  I just realized it’s been at least 8 years!  I’ve been doing more painting, drawing and other mediums for installation.

I think sometimes one gets better at things in the time between the actual doing of it.  My eye has gotten better and I haven’t forgotten how to use my hands.

On another note I loved working at the Crucible.  It’s a wonderful space, and so nice to know I have access to all sorts of great equipment for working with metal, glass, wood, and clay.  In other good news, Techshop is opening a branch in SF, so I won’t have far to drive to have access to laser cutters, milling machines, 3D printers and other more high-tech tools when I need them.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 16, 2010 at 3:18 am

A face

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I’ve been sculpting the face in wax for the figure.  I’m looking at photos and paintings of women who were considered beauties in the 1880s (the period of the clothing) as my models.  The idea is an ideal and austere form- like a Greek statue, but offset with the intense imagery being projected through the mask.

So I’ve gotten the face roughed-out in wax.  It still needs ears as well as detail work, but so far so good.  Then I add the mask.  I’ve got some flat sheets of wax somewhere and can’t seem to find them yet.  Those will be ideal for getting a nice perfectly-smooth surface on the mask.  All I have to do is cut out the shape and sort out the attachment.

As much as I’m not looking forward to ears not including them would be too much of a cheat.  The hairstyles of the day clearly showed the ears, so I cannot fairly cover them, and while I will transition to a different material for the rest of the head, the seam is better hidden under clothes and in the hair where possible, so the ears must also be in glass.

I will have access to the glass casting facilities starting this Wednesday.  I don’t know if she’ll be ready by then, but I can have a test piece ready.  Anyway- I should make a mold of her before casting in case the cast comes out badly.

It feels good to be sculpting again.  It’s been donkeys.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 8, 2010 at 12:23 am

Technical Torso

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In making the figure for the current sculpture I foolishly thought I could take a mannequin or dress form and make some adjustments.  No such luck.


dress forms aren’t sturdy enough if they are hollow and the arms aren’t developed enough if they have them, and not right materials to attach arms.

modern mannequins not only have entirely the wrong poses (shoulders thrown back), dimensions, shape (corsets shape the bust differently) but they are apparently built to withstand artillery assault and therefore are too difficult to modify to be worth it.

So… I pondered various solutions.  The best seems to be getting the form in foam, then surfacing it with fiberglass or carbon-fiber and epoxy, then hollowing the foam out to make a ventilated space for the projector.  This will make it extremely light (and therefore shippable), sturdy and hollow.

At first I thought I’d carve the foam form… but working with casting and fabric gave me what I hope is a better idea.  I’m going to sew a slightly smaller version of the top the figure will be wearing in latex (at least the torso part of it).  Then spray the seams with latex to seal them, put mold release on the whole thing, turn it inside-out, seal the arm-holes and neck-hole and fill it with expanding foam.   This should create the exact form I need, and the expansion effect should keep the fabric from collapsing.  I may have to hang the whole thing from the ceiling while it sets, but I think it will work.  I can also add on more expanding foam if I need to at any point and carve into the existing foam for alterations.  Once it has got the carbon fiber on I should be able to attach anything to it. I only need the torso to the hip to achieve the form, and the rest can be a simple stand.

Ideally I want to make at least the arms and stand all detachable.  I’m thinking that plumbing parts will serve me best there- all the pieces are threaded and it’s all very sturdy.  There is a mannequin warehouse nearby where I will look for arms.  Sadly I already have the suspicion that they won’t be in the correct poses.   I may end up using some combination of mannequin arms and hands which I cast and finish myself.  Hands are so expressive that the pose needs proper attention.

I am delighted by the diversity of even the materials shopping.  The art store of course, but the hardware store, the plastics store, the fabric stores, the wig shops, costumers (for the gloves if I don’t end up making those too), Radioshack…. it’s exciting.

Once again I feel that I am finally seeing the fruit of all my diverse use of mediums and all the odd hobbies and interests.   When a project like this one comes together it is very visible.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 8, 2010 at 12:05 am

Creating Form

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I’ve been working on the form for the sculpture with the glass face which is part of the collaborative project.

I decided to go with a 1880-1890’s silhouette for the figure. It does all the right things for me. The time period was one where women were on the horizon of equal rights (some countries had just granted hem the right to vote, others soon followed), but they were also in many ways more restricted and confined than ever.

Physically I like the form- it stands out as different, but if I keep the lines and detail simple it can have an almost classical element. I considered the Rocco period (because it fit the mask so well- carnivale associations) but the form was too powerful- too wide and face-on imposing. Also the mask on the 1880’s figure will stand out as more symbolic than costume.

I like the way the 1880’s form is rather demure and simple from the front and has more weight as you move around it.

I decided to use this overskirt pattern- the folds are simple, but have a classical sculpture feel. I think the association will come through when it’s all done in white.

I think the tricky part will be having the whole thing in white and have it not read as “bride” but I think I can do that. I decided to do a more serious bustle under-structure partly for that reason- a small drapey thing would look like a bridal train, but a large bustle is unmistakably it’s own thing.

Otherwise I’ve been collecting images for sculpting the face in wax. Demure, idealized faces that have a hint of an edge to them.

I’ve also been working out the structure- how to assemble everything so that it goes together and comes apart easily, and getting the projector in there properly.

So far I only have colors and hazy images of what will be projected through the mask, but it’s coming along.

It’s nice to finally put some of my sewing/costuming into my artwork. I find that any serious interests and hobbies I have eventually make themselves useful.

On the flipside, I’ve avoided certain new media/hobbies (like anything to do with glass) because I am wary of them taking time away from my art. I’ve been wanting to work with glass for years, and have had access to a place for a good 6 years, but I wouldn’t allow myself to touch it until I had a real art project that demanded it. I know my propensity for distraction and have systems to counter it and keep some discipline. It keeps me productive.

Written by Mary Corey March

February 26, 2010 at 2:31 am

New materials

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I have just took delivery of two big beautiful aluminum honeycomb-core panels!   One is for the Pieta piece- the other we shall see. The company (Pacific Panels) is absolutely great- family run, sweet, friendly… the  owner’s daughter even delivered this tiny order personally in this hideous rain.

Anyways, it’s a wonderful material and a great painting surface:  light-weight, archival, very tough, smooth… and it has the modern industrial look I wanted- it offsets the classical imagery of the Pieta well. I had originally thought I would use wood for this piece, but it makes it too classical.  I may incorporate wood into it (in a frame perhaps) but I really want to show some part of the metal in this.  I think it will really help achieve that bridge from classical to contemporary.

I am also tempted to pull it out into 3D- to use pieces of scrap metal attached to the surface as part of the debris around the central figures… but I am already suspecting that may constitute overkill.  I need to see it and sketch it and possibly even mock it up in photoshop before I go there… because attaching things towards the end will be much more difficult (and less archival) than attaching them in the beginning.   I think that possibly scraping into the surface post-painting, perhaps with a sander or dremel will be the way to get some of the effects I want without resorting to 3d- then I could varnish over the whole.

I love exploring new materials.  I could certainly be much more productive if I were to just keep outputting a single style or material that I discovered worked well… but that feels more like Craft and less art to me- and much less interesting and challenging.  I am always exploring new mediums, or new takes on old ones.  In the process I have become very good and confident at the experimentation process itself.  I like to think that this is one of the most telling skills of the contemporary artist.

I could use it in future for things I want reflections coming through the paint. Exciting.

I should be able to start prepping them Saturday. Yay!

Written by Mary Corey March

January 22, 2010 at 2:56 am