Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tree of Life and Buttermilk Falls

I continued work on the Tree of Life commission this week by packing on plasticine clay over the wire armature. We use a water bed heater to soften the wax-based clay. I cut up an old sculpture into little pieces and sandwiched them between a plastic sheet, then covered that with a towel to hold in the heat.

The first thing that I did was to add more wire leaves, making a total of 72 on the sculpture. Then, warm clay was smeared onto the armature.

There is a large mass at the base that will become the roots of the tree. I use foam insulation to take up space, rather than pack it solid with clay.

Then, everything got a layer of clay.

As I kept building up the form with more clay, I started to use a wooden scraper tool to begin rough forming the trunk and branches.

This is the progress at the end of the week. I will begin to work on roots, next. I want to finish roots and branches before adding the leaves. It's real easy to un-do work on one area of a sculpture when your trying to reach another section.

Saturday, we mixed business with pleasure when we went for a hike with a friend from Boy Scout days, Eddie Franke, and his girl friend Loretta. We went to Buttermilk Falls Trail in Brandenburg.

I took lots of pictures of tree bark, to use as reference for the Tree of Life commission.

I also took pictures of roots...

...and more roots.

Meg took this picture of an interesting tree. (see anything else in that picture?)

Right beside the trail is the gravely remains from a Lithographic stone operation that was in production over a hundred years ago. Brandenburg was one of only two sources in the world for Lithographic stone used in printing at the turn of the 20th century. The only other was in Solnhofen, Germany. This became the only source for the U.S. and its allies during W.W.I. Hard to believe this was so important at one time, as there is very little to see there, now. (photo Meg White)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Armature for Tree of Life

I began work on the Tree of Life commission this week. The first thing that I did was use Photoshop to enlarge the drawing to full scale (36" wide by 37" high). I had to trim and print off pieces of the image, as paper is only 8-1/2" x 11". I put the separate images back together like a puzzle.

Then, I cleared a spot in the clay studio and started gathering everything together. I found a work stand of the right size for the project and cut pieces of plywood to make an approximation of how the granite base will hold the bronze tree. I didn't fasten the wood together at this point, as I want to build this base securely around the tree armature when it is almost finished.
I decided to use copper tubing for the main support inside the branches. I can bend it easily with a pipe bender (shown), making it possible to adjust at any time throughout the project.

The main support for the armature is a piece of galvanized pipe and a floor flange. It's position was carefully measured and marked onto the full scale template. I used a piece of cotton rope to find the length of each curving branch. That gave me the correct length for each piece of copper tubing. I kept bending and checking each piece against the template. When I finished one, I'd lay it on the drawing and begin the next.

When all of the branches were laid out correctly on the template, I used aluminum wire to fasten them together. I also twisted wire over all of the copper to give the clay something to hold onto, rather than smooth pipe.

I screwed the floor flange to the base board and fastened the plywood base around it. I used aluminum sheet for the radius of the notch for the tree roots. This gives a fairly precise approximation for matching up with the granite base at the end of the project.

Next, I made 61 leaves in aluminum wire and added them to the copper branches. It has a pretty cool look at this point (almost hate to cover it with clay).

This is the side view that shows the dimensional aspect to the tree. This will become more apparent as I start adding clay tomorrow.

The highlight of the week was the boat ride that our neighbor gave us - the most fun we've had in a while. He jokingly called it "The McMillen Wildlife Tour" as we saw: this deer calmly crossing Yellowbank creek in front of us...

...and these 3 baby raccoons bumbling along, looking for something to get into...

...a common sight of a Great Blue Heron...

...and the rare sight of this juvenile Bald Eagle at the mouth of the creek, where it meets the Ohio. etc. etc. (Meg took 273 pictures - all photos of wildlife copyright Meg White).

Sunday, August 14, 2011's been so long...

...since I've carved stone. I've been extremely busy doing everything but... stone sculpting. This week I came back to it - with a vengence!

I picked out this 15,000 lb. stone about 8 years ago because it has some extreme variegation on the other side.

In the last week of April 2011, I began work on it by splitting off a 2,000 lb. corner (behind me) and cutting a notch out of the center. There's stone everywhere - too much of a good thing.

I got the crane truck to start and... made the extra stone go away. This is how the quarry block looked for 3-1/2 months.

This is the progress at the end of this week. I'm super happy with the direction that it's taken. I've got hinges and machine parts coming out of the gnarly stone block. I'm having too much fun...but...I'll have to put it aside again, because...

...It's official - I received a commission to create a major bronze sculpture to be installed in Cave Hill Cemetery of Louisville, Kentucky. This is a Tree of Life with a White Granite Dove rising from the branches. The entire monument will measure 5' wide by 5' high. I'm excited by this opportunity - I had been considering creating a Tree of Life (in stone), before this came along. Life is strange - things happen for a reason....