Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Sky Life

Here are some images of a new piece I have been working on since last December.  Title, "Sky Life", size 70" x 38".

Note: the image is a photoshop composite as the piece hasn't actually been assembled at this time and it will not be possible to photograph it in the studio.  Ultimately it will be photographed in its new setting, a private home, in its architectural setting, in sunlight.  This composite was made by photographing sections separately and putting them together in Photoshop. It is an accurate representation of a studio shot, except for the "lead lines" which are just Photoshop black.

Here's the original sketch:

Technical details:  the entire piece is two layers of flash glass. St. Just French Antique flash glass in a teal blue on clear.  On top of that is Lambert's red on clear 1001/R/CB.
The image is generated (as my images often are) by working with the layers of flash--I begin by sandblasting to prepare the surface, but the subtleties of tone are accomplished by using engraving tools and diamond hand files.  I used black vitreous paint, silverstain and fuchsia Fusemaster enamel to enhance the engraving and to get yellows, blacks and pinks.  I worked on the glass pieces alone.

The piece will be a copperfoil construction, soldered into a steel rebar matrix, which I named "Skeletor".
Help assembling this piece came from Bryan Willette and Beyer's Studios--many, many thanks to them!!!

As for the subject matter: BIRDS.  BIRDS!!  I love birds.  I love drawing birds.  You know, when I was in high school, I was lucky enough to be able to take and AP studio art course and that's when I discovered Brancusi and tried to rip off one of his "Bird in Space" sculptures in soapstone.  It was an epic failure.  The form of birds has always appealed to me as has their vocabulary of parts: wings,  bullet-shaped bodies and heads and tails.  As characters, they come equipped with colorful outfits and don't have boring areas like thighs which human bodies have.  God how I get sick of rendering thighs.

Bird forms provide a limited structure that one can riff on endlessly and also an "excuse" to get involved with pattern and color in endless re-combinations of certain motifs--such as feathers.  So birds are like an alphabet of design elements from which one can create words, phrases, and gawd forbid, poetry.

 I had the idea that the piece would have millions of birds, most of which would be carrying a flower--which could be read as nest building (this piece is in a private home after all!) or as a symbol--birds are often seen as "messengers" and in Victorian times were often depicted "delivering" a key, a letter or a flower in their beak.  So these birds are doing some flower deliveries and of course they aren't just any flowers but, like the birds,  hallucinatory imaginary ones.

Why  hallucinatory, why imaginary?  First of all, I privilege these things as ta primary source of original material. Yeah, I admit it, originality is still important to me and yes, I recognize that we don't exist in a vacuum and any good imagination is being fed by a thousand streams of input. But its how you crunch that input and how, once metabolized deep within you, it gets ejected as something entirely new. 
Its hard to use your imagination once you are an adult--its trivialized and even denigrated. Its a distraction, its not empirical, its fabrications are...well, untruths. But too much research and reason and your art project turns into a social studies report.  Fine for some, but not my game. I like to keep it an inside job. 

Also, I am not a "visionary" in that I don't visualize my work a prior making it, but I admire so-called visionary art.  As for hallucinatory: I only took psychedelic drugs on two occasions and I didn't like them much. It rankles me to think we must source these images from a pill, when they are right inside us already! I am interested in transcendent experience.  Hallucinations seem to be generated from deep within us and to be an actual image of our neurology.  They reflect the deepest mental experiences relatively uninfluenced by nurture, culture and academia, to name a few corrupting agents!  (Just kidding....or maybe not.) I love the way some visionary art makes every element pulsate, vibrate, throb at some ridiculous amped up frequency as though it were suddenly a primal energy source, broadcasting transmissions like some cosmic radio tower.  Yup, that's a good look for any bird or flower!  And in the end what are they saying?  "Listen up  The world is alive!"

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Festival of technical

"Murdered Animal" 2018  see pics below!
It is no surprise, but I get a lot of technical questions.  Also, I get a lot of non-questions.  meaning, I hear or overhear discussion of the techniques I employ and its often incorrect.  So here's a post regrading all that stuff.
Remember, I post here under the tag demo, for more detailed information on specific pieces.

Some procedural details: first of all, I do not mind sharing.  I am happy to let people know how the look of my work is accomplished.  I invented very little of it (the file engraving being the exception), but I think my contribution is just how much of these techniques I use and my orchestration of them. Finally, I can tell in general how the work is made, but I can be very experimental and my procedures vary greatly.  So the descriptions here are in general.  in no way are they "rules" or even an accurate description of my methodology--it is in flux (glass pun!)

A few of the most common technical misunderstandings are: 1. "The work is painted" The look of my work is not the result of painting.  I do use paint, but comparatively little. I have heard people absolutely insisting that its painted. NO NO NO NO NO NO its not!!!!!  This is me speaking, and I am not only a first person witness to myself, I actually am doing this myself. What you are seeing is the results of engraving.  The only paint is black and yellow and sometimes pink.  The reds, blues, and any secondary or tertiary color made with red or blue is  the results of a combination of sandblasting and engraving. 

 2.  There is a technical difference between etching and engraving.  My work is not etched.  In both glass and metals, 'etching" refers to the use of acid.  Engraving refers to the use of tools.  My work is engraved.  Over and over again, I see people misusing these terms. Etching=acid, engraving= tools.

I start with a sketch-  I do not typically work with a complete sketch (and only very rarely do I work with a color sketch) as I like to leave many of the creative decisions (and the color choices) for when I am actually working with the glass.

Once I have some idea of what I want to do, I start cutting the glass.  The glass I use the most is called “Full Antique Flash Glass”.  I prefer Lamberts or Verriere St. Just, both hand blown and imported from Europe.  Flash glass is a type of stained glass with a paper thin layer of intense color on a lighter, thicker layer. Despite the name, the glass is not actually “antique”.  This glass has the advantage that the color can be removed by sandblasting and engraving revealing a contrasting area of color.

I use a regular steel wheel cutter to cut the glass and I also use the standard stained glass equipment of a grozing and running pliers to further refine the shapes. After the glass is shaped, I grind all the edges on a router type grinder.  I do this partly because I am still squeamish about getting cut  (after all these years!)

The next step is to do any sandblasting that needs to be done.  Sandblasting is a process by which one can remove areas of the colored layer by abrading the surface with sand at a high pressure.  I use a variety of resists to create stencils for sandblasting, including glue and masking tape, but the most common type of stencils I use are hand cut translucent adhesive vinyl or a photographic film that is glued to the glass.

Sometimes people think sandblasting is like an airbrush and can make a refined image.  However, I only use it to prepare the surface of the glass for engraving and to remove large areas of color.  It is a clumsy machine and I do not use it to make detailed images. 
And now we get to nitty gritty (also a glass pun!) After sandblasting,  I engrave smaller details.  I have several engraving tools.  Civilians would be reminded  of dentist drills. I use diamond ball burrs and cold water.  In conjunction with power tools, I also use diamond hand files to further refine the engraving.  This is the part of the process when the image gets its detailed, tonal look.  It also takes forever and can be physically painful.  
In terms of work, the cutting and sandblasting take a very short time, but this stage can take weeks and weeks.  To make a nice engraving of about 5" would take a day or so.

The next step is painting with glass paint.  The only color I use is black or very occasionally,  brown.  I paint it on and fire it in a 1250˚ F kiln to adhere it permanently.  I usually do 2-5 firings per piece of glass as that is the best way to get rich blacks and tonal variation.  I also use silver stain.  Silverstain, the origin of the term stained glass, is silver nitrate in a gamboge base--not really paint as it penetrates the surface of the glass and actually stains it yellow.  When it comes out of the kiln, the gamboge is washed off to reveal the yellow.  Lately I have been working with pink enamels.  (Note: the terminology is confusing, enamels, vitreous paints and stain are all different things to a stained glass artist, although they could all be sort of classified as "paint" since you paint them on.  They all fire on in a kiln and are permanent until the sun burns out and the universe collapses.)  I have been known to use a tiny bit of cold paint but only on windows to be displayed in lightboxes as it is not UV safe for all of eternity.
This is all the paint I use—most of the color in my work is the flash glass itself.

 One reason there is a lot of color in each section of my pictures is that the flash glass is layered--sometimes up to 5 pieces deep.  Some of the faces I’ve made have used a layer of blue on clear flash, a layer of brown on clear, pink on clear, and red on clear.  There’s no particular predetermined order—just what looks good.
Now regarding this procedure: 1. sandblast 2. engrave, 3. file 4. paint: I almost always go back and repeat many of these stages several times. Sometimes I engrave into the fired paint.  Until satisfaction is attained...or I give up the fight.

Once all the parts are done for a window, I assemble the piece using copper foil and sometimes lead.  In the layered areas, I use a wide copper foil.  Then I solder it together, frame it with zinc and it’s done!
Top: Blue flash glass, sandblasted and engraved
Top: Blue flash glass, sandblasted and engraved.  Bottom, Red flash glass, sandblasted, engraved, vitreous paint (stencil black #1059 Reusche)
All the blue pieces for the entire piece.  Sandblasted and engraved.  The pink is cold paint.
All the red pieces (plus the  blue lion), sandblasted, engraved, filed, vitreous paint (stencil black #1059 Reusche), silverstain #3