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. . . life encapsulated in art . . .
 
 
The Process

Artists work in many different ways, and mediums. My personal method of working is to first make a maquette (small-scale prototype) from whatever material is to hand, usually clay, plaster or wax. Though others tend to sketch and draw on paper a lot, I prefer to work three-dimensionally and draw directly with the material, using traditional drawings as back-up. Being a very tactile person, I love nothing better than to feel the squelshy clay in my hands as I model it, the smooth damp plaster as I carve it, or the warm soft wax as I mould it with my fingers, often ending up with a piece that has been dropped, halved, squashed, melted, scraped or otherwise battered in the name of creativity – many times.

Eventually I am happy with the form and I am ready to proceed to the next stage.

The next stage could involve translating it into another material altogether, such as stone or bronze, or taking it up in scale, or indeed both, as in this image, where I am using the small maquette as a guide to chisel the form from stone. However, if I were to make a bronze piece from the same maquette, I would need to make a rubber mould first, coat it with wax to a certain depth, and, when cool, remove it and refine it further in preparation for casting.

I will demonstrate a little of the complicated casting process in the following images, where a bronze piece is tracked until completion.

 

Firstly, I have taken the wax form and added what is called a sprue system. This is where wax tubing is attached to the piece to facilitate access for molten metal at a later stage through “runners”, and the escape of hot gasses through “risers”.

 

 

 

 

 

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Next, I coated it in a mix of plaster and silica sand, and surrounded it in a cocoon of plaster and luto (pre-fired plaster).

 

 

 

 

 


When sufficiently set, I removed it from its restraining frame and placed it in a very hot kiln to melt the wax, leaving a perfect, hollow, replica, or negative form, within.

Bronze ingots were then melted in a furnace and when the molten metal was red-hot, we poured it into the empty mould (wearing protective clothing), and left it for a number of hours to cool and solidify once again.

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It is always a wonderful mix of excitement and trepidation cracking open the mould and seeing how successful (or not) the procedure has been. On this occasion you can see my former tutor at Crawford College of Art and Design, Roger Hannam, lending a helping hand by opening the still hot mould with a hatchet and gently chipping at the excess material until he reaches the core, which is, by now, metal.

Once “hatched”, I put the piece into a bucket of water to both cool the metal further and soften the plaster stuck in the crevices, before poking at it and cleaning it up to a stage where I could remove the metal sprues, a process that involves, at various stages, an angle grinder, a hacksaw, metal files and finally sanding drill bits.

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Large or awkward sculptures are often cast in several pieces and then welded together afterwards. Unfortunately, this piece was made in five sections, which meant five sprue systems, five moulds, five clean-ups, etc. etc. Finally, I got the lot of them into a sandblaster to flush out the remaining plaster particles, after which they at last began to bear a resemblance to a piece of art, though not before I had set to work on them using up to six grades of sandpaper, welded them back together, ground the joins, sandblasted again, and polished once more. They went from this…..

 

to this…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to this…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and eventually to this…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When everything was completed, the entire sculpture was reheated and a chemical patina was applied by hand to colour the bronze. Patination is a process whereby the natural aging and oxidation of bronze is aped and speeded-up through using different chemicals for different colours. In this instance I wanted a natural, organic-looking finish, so I chose browns, highlighting certain areas and letting the bronze gleam through, then waxing it to seal it and maintain my desired effect.

 

Finally, the finished creation – meet “Mother Nature”.

 

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© Copyright Kathryn Smyth Sculpture 2008 - 2011