I happen to be doing a lot of work in wax at the moment, in preparation for a bronze pour. In the past, I frequently found myself in situations where I just didn't seem to have the right tool to get the job done, whether it was to attach something at an awkward angle, or to smooth or to texturize something that seemed to be inaccessible. Some situations had easy solutions and others required a bit more consideration. I thought I would share a few of the solutions that I have come up with over the years.
My first efforts to attach one piece of wax to another involved using a thin bladed putty knife. I soon added a narrow palette knife and a butter knife to my tool kit to enable me to get into smaller spaces. A small clay tool with a curved blade allowed me to access small curved surfaces. I could also use the clay tool to scrape or smooth the wax, and I found that a slightly heated metal loop tool could be helpful in removing wax. When I had to apply heat to a small area, I found that
I could use a small metal stylus or burnisher.
Texturizing a surface can often be an interesting challenge. Anything that is hard enough to be pressed into the wax can be utilized...a metal screw, a comb, etc. As I mentioned in my 10/8 blog entry, I used a heated metal file to make texture on the pod bird wings.
A recent addition to my tool kit was a simple wooden craft stick that had been shaped on either end. It is great for reaching into to small spaces for gentle smoothing. I also have utilized a piece of wire (heated) to make holes or textures. One of my favorite innovations has been to create specific shaped metal 'blades' that can be heated to use for attaching oddly shaped wax pieces or to attach wax pieces in hard to reach areas. I cut the metal shapes out of roofing flashing and hold them with a pair of vise grips. Lastly I have constructed several devices that can be used to cut circles out of a sheet of wax. I attached wooden handles to different sized metal cans, pipes, and lids, that, when heated, can be used to create either multiple openings or multiple circular shapes in consistent sizes. As simple as a cookie cutter and could certainly be done with other shapes.
Art Improv... MacGyvering Tools
I am in the process of getting several pieces ready for an upcoming bronze pour and one of
those pieces is a small version of 'Femme Verte' (see images in the Bronze and slide sections of this website). The obvious difference between 'Femme Verte' and this piece will be size... the original is about 32" tall and the new one will be about 8 " tall, but the new piece will also be closer in pose and attitude to the original clay maquette. The challenge is find ways to make the wax mimic the look of fluidity and flexibility originally achieved using modeling clay. The wax can be brittle if too cold and gummy if overheated. I have been able to warm the wax in hot water to the point where it is malleable, and adjust the water temperature to create the desired degree of pliancy. The next steps will be to exaggerate the angle of the head, the arch of the back, and the tilt of the buttocks. Then I will add hands and feet and refine the limbs. The last step will be to add a base before gating it up, along with several other small pieces, and getting it ready to be put in a mold for the bronze pour next month.
Bound by Tradition ... or Not
I choose to carve primarily with hand tools when I am working in stone. They make me feel more connected to the medium and in better control of the amount of material I have to remove. The mechanics of determining how much material can be removed at a time requires getting to know the specific stone you are working on...how hard is it, does it have any imperfections or fissures? An overly enthusiastic tap of the hammer or a misjudged chisel angle can mean the amputation of a key component of the final design. The process to me is definitely a sensory experience... listening for the sound of the perfect hammer strike, seeing the planes and shapes emerge, handling the form, and touching it's surfaces. The final piece hopefully is a reflection of the extent of the sculptor's connection to the process and to the sculpture itself.
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.