Sometimes Mother Nature provides a natural form that an artist feels compelled to preserve and share with others. Such is the case with a bronze piece that I finished recently. A number of years ago I came across a piece of driftwood that offered a myriad of complex intersecting planes and textures. A slight change of viewing angle could provide a profile that represented itself as a completely different form. I knew the piece had potential but, because of its seemingly endless possibilities, I did not know exactly how I wanted to present it. I kept this piece of wood tucked away with various other "future" projects until I finally decided to go ahead and try to cast it in bronze. The challenge was to retain the textures and come up with a way to mount the piece that would still allow it to maintain the complexities of composition that drew me to it in the first place.
Once I committed to casting the piece, the first step was to seal it with shellac and then to begin the actual gating process. Surprisingly, the angles of the various projections off the wood lent themselves to a fairly clear path of flow for the gating. The tricky part was to make as few attachment points as possible and to make them in areas that could be most easily re-textured after casting. I did my best and crossed my fingers. Once the gated piece was encased in its investment mold and the bronze was poured, it was a done deal. The revelation of success or failure would come when the piece was broken out of its mold. After breaking it out, cutting away the gating and chasing the attachment points, it appeared that the casting had indeed been successful.
The next step was to chase and re-texture the attachment points. After bead blasting it, I was then ready to apply the patina. I used a 1:1:1 combination of Birchwood Casey black and brown and white vinegar to achieve a darkened surface color. After rinsing it with water to stop the darkening process, I used a soft souring pad to lightly rub away some of the patina on the high surfaces to enhance the various textures. Before sealing the piece, I needed to plan and construct a base and determine the best method for mounting the sculpture on the base to show it to best advantage. I knew I wanted to use yellowheart wood for the base, but would I be able to attach the sculpture to it? Stay tuned....
I knew that I wanted the patina to be fairly dark and that I wanted to get some sort of subtle variations in the color. After doing some test samples with varying mixtures of Birchwood Casey brown & black patinas, I decided to try mixing them, first with ammonia and then with vinegar. In the past I had used various combinations of ammonia and vinegar (and salt) to achieve different blue and green patinas either with heat or by fuming and thought the addition of one or the other or both might produce the look I was trying for. The winning combination turned out to be a 1:1:1 combination of BC black and BC brown and white vinegar. After the patina was applied to the piece and then rinsed, I sealed it with statin finish spray lacquer and started work on the wooden base.
I used yellowheart to make the base. I liked the pairing of the color of the wood with the dark patina of the bronze. The top and bottom of the box were each made by gluing 2 pieces of board together to get the proper width. The sides were cut, splined in the corners and glued together. I also glued a 3 inch square block of wood to the center of the bottom before attaching the sides of the box to it. The block would add additional stability to the rod that would hold the bronze onto the base. Next I glued and screwed the bottom piece to the sides and filled the screwholes with yellowheart plugs. After gluing the top piece on I determined where the hole for the support rod needed to be placed so that the stair ball would appear balanced from all sides. I drilled a 5/16" hole through the base and made a recessed opening on the underside to accommodate a washer and nut. The box was given a final sanding with 320 grit sandpaper and coated with satin finish polyurethane. I epoxied one end of a threaded rod into the hole I had made in the bottom of the ball, threaded the rod through the hole in the wooden base, put on the washer and nut, and tightened the nut with a ratchet wrench and -
... it was finished!
* For more information and background on this piece see my blog entries for
9/11/12, 11/28/12, 10/27/13, 4/10/14, and 4/23/14.
Cynthia Smith, Maine artist, originally from Connecticut. Taught art at secondary level for 35 years, retired in 2004. Sculpts in bronze, wood, stone, clay & plaster. Her work can be seen at several mid-coast Maine galleries and shows.