With the deadline for the upcoming Celebrate Maine themed show at River Arts Gallery in Damariscotta fast approaching, I prowled around in my stash of potential sculpture materials for inspiration. I unearthed a couple of interesting chunks of driftwood of similar coloration that had interesting shapes and surface textures. I envisioned them transformed into a rugged coastal outcropping with seagulls perched on top.
Each piece of wood had a flat side that allowed me to attach them together as a single unit, plus I had a couple of smaller scrap pieces that I was able to attach to add additional variation to the form. I also had a leftover scrap section of black walnut board that had a dark swirling grain pattern that I knew would make a great base under the joined pieces of driftwood. I rounded off the corners of the board, then sanded it and sealed it with satin polyurethane. Next task - make the gulls.
I knew I was going to make the gulls out of Apoxie Clay, so the first thing I did was to make some armatures out of small pieces of wood and finish nails. The nails would make sturdy legs and would be used to mount the gulls on the driftwood base. I wasn't sure how many I would need, so decided to make 5 - better too many than too few (any spares could be put to use in a future project). I used Apoxie Clay to build up each of the gull forms, varying head positions and "attitudes". I sealed each gull with flat white enamel spray paint, and then experimented with positioning the gulls on the driftwood base. After determining that 3 was the optimum number of gulls that would fit on the base, I tackled the tricky job of adding the gulls' webbed feet. Each bird was only about 3" high and 3 1/2" long, so the feet would be small and would have to conform to different specific surface contours. For each foot I made a small thin wedge of Apoxie Clay, then pierced the tip with a toothpick and threaded the leg nail through the hole. I made the webbing effect by pressing a clay tool into the wedge of Clay. I then inserted the gull's nails into the holes I had drilled for them in the driftwood base and let the feet harden in place on their perches. (I covered the wood with a small square of plastic wrap so that the Clay wouldn't stick to it.)
After painting the hardened feet with the flat white enamel, I used acrylic paint to add color to the gulls' beaks, legs, wings and tail feathers. Next came the assembly process. I used wooden dowels and epoxy glue to attach the driftwood form to the base. Then I attached each gull by putting epoxy into the drilled holes made for it in the driftwood and a small amount on the bottom of the gull's feet. Gulls attached...piece complete!
thought was to attach the snails on a sand textured plaster square that could be framed in the same way I did the fish. I quickly nixed that idea in favor of simply using a wooden board that could be sprayed with a Rust-Oleum textured paint that is sand colored. After coming up with a tentative arrangement of a dozen of the snails, the next step was to cut the wooden board to size (about 6 1/8" x 6 1/8") and figure out how to put the piece together.
I decided that rather than just gluing the snails directly onto the board, I would use wooden pegs to insure that the shells would be securely attached. I filled each shell with Apoxie Clay, let it harden, then drilled holes for the wooden pegs in the clay. Before gluing the pegs into the holes, I marked out the positions of the snails on the board and drilled the "receiving holes" for the pegs. I also decided that I wanted to create a "snail trail" behind each snail to show that each one was moving in a specific direction. I mixed up a sand color with acrylic paint that was slightly darker than the color on the base. I then thinned the paint a bit with water, and painted the trails on the board. When the paint was dry, I sanded the trails lightly. Since the base coat of Rust-Oleum actually has a sandy texture, the sanding created the same sand-like texture in the darker acrylic paint of the trails.
My final decision, before gluing the snails in place, was to paint the large center snail a dark color by spray painting it with layers of several different colors (grey, brown, green) and adding a little Graphite Grey acrylic to emphasize the recesses. I wanted a contrast to the somewhat exotic coloring of the original snail shells, and I thought it would add a nice variation to the dynamics to the composition. The last step, after gluing the snails to the prepared board, was to mat and frame the piece. I was pleased with the outcome, and have titled the piece "Beach Crowd". I will let the viewer decide if "crowd" is a noun or verb. I have quite a few snail shells left over, so wouldn't be surprised if there were more snail reliefs to be made in the future.
... matted & framed 10"x10" ... "Beach Crowd"
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.