Web Design
by Hodephinitely
sculptor's blog

Thu, 04 Oct 2018 09:40:23 +0000

Wax Tips 101 : What To Use. Filled Or Unfilled Waxes?

I am often asked what wax I use, and the answer to such a short question is long. Waxes are numerous in kind, appearance, handling and use, and I use a great number of them, many I mix myself. For this first 101 I’ll tell you a major distinction though –

Filled versus unfilled waxes.

What is an Unfilled Wax?
Basically, a pure wax or wax/rosin mix. Wax is a crystalline structure. It melts at varying temperatures and as it cools and sets, crystals form. These are organised neatly and, under a microscope, you would see a tidy mathematical arrangement. If you tear a piece of wax off a set, crystallized block, you disrupt the crystals and if you then try to squeeze it, stick a piece back on, soften and generally mush it around, the crystals become ragged. To the eye, this will appear as lines, imperfections, mess and even colour changes. Such an “unfilled” wax does not make a pleasing modelling material: raw microcrystalline wax, beeswax, paraffin wax, any simple unadulterated wax is better cast, not modelled. Even if you cast an unfilled wax you are left with seams that it can be very difficult to make disappear, because the crystalline structure, once broken, cannot be manually put back together.

Ok how do we get around that?
The ideal modelling material is one you can seamlessly, flawlessly add to itself so as your work grows you don’t see lines, patches and an ugly surface. Plasticine is one such, also clay, plastilene and so on. In the wax world, we use a filler, mixed in with the molten wax, which can be a powder such as chalk, French chalk, zinc white, anything inert, which sits between the crystals and somehow hides the visual effects of handling. This can be added to hard and to soft wax mixes, making a wax that is suitable for prototyping or even display.
Some unfilled waxes have a colour added – the darker the better – to achieve this seamless look, although I have found that modelling coloured unfilled waxes can cause a colour change. Foundry wax is unfilled, and often a dark green or purple, and when you add pieces to it the joins are hard to see but look closely and they are there. The filled waxes I use are smooth and seamless, one piece disappears into another invisibly and the surface holds together in a unified way. This takes a lot of irritation out of the process of getting a good finish.

Can I use a filled wax in the bronze foundry?
Alas no, only for prototyping and casting into an unfilled wax. The filler won’t burn out and will hang around in the mould, spoiling the casting.
What should I try first?
Anyone who has done my workshops will have been started off on the deliciously malleable 1704 (soft) and 1718 ( the hard one we use in the moulage class) in white or bronze colours from British Wax of Redhill, Surrey, UK. The former is a great prototyping material on all but the hottest days, the latter can be modelled by putting it in warm water or with a heat gun in one hand. You can also melt it over indirect heat (a bain Marie) and splodge it into a rubber mould. Don't overheat it or heat it for too long or the filler will drop out of suspension and gather at the bottom of the pan. They both take oil paint really well. Just keep them free from dust and they will look good indefinitely, but bear in mind the 1704 is really too soft to exhibit or sell. Tiranti sell a French style white modelling wax but I find that one too stiff and chalky. It might be useful on a very hot day.
One day I’ll write the book on wax modelling but until then watch out for more wax 101s, answering the questions I get asked most often. EC.

Image: This is a film of a wax viewed in polarised light using the Projectina microscope. The crystals are unmissable.
The wax is a commercial material called Gelucire 44/14 used in pharmaceutical formulation. Photo by Graham Matthews

Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:13:41 +0000

Poperinghe, As Is

I became very well acquainted with the St Bertinus Kerk whilst installing the exhibition. It offers curious panelled wooden porches guarding the entrance, a profusion of 17th century woodcarvings, a cloth Baldacchino with swags and tassels of uncertain vintage , statues, a gloomy catafalque for displaying coffins, and many other mysterious Catholic equipments from all periods. Always I had a sense that the town is now a quiet whisper of what it must have been during the "Great" War, when eyewitnesses report a huge influx of men and machinery and a never-ending coming and going.

Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:05:14 +0000

Poperinghe, Flanders, As Was

Having just opened a show "Heelkracht / Healing" at the St Bertinuskerk in Poperinge, the town behind the lines of the Western Front so associated with British troops in WW1 , I was curious to see how much the place had changed. It escaped much of the extreme destruction of Ypres although there was considerable death toll there from shelling , particularly near the railway. The Church itself stands solid and broad, a tenacious Gothic wide-arched and clinging relatively low to the ground, still surrounded by a huddle of old buildings and now inevitably a war memorial. The bells of the town play a carillon of old WW1 songs, reminding the visitor that it's a long, long way to Tipperary....

Link to our show & details of events in Poperinge

Sun, 11 Mar 2018 16:00:16 +0000

Turning The Pages Of The Body?

In the dissection room this week I found myself demonstrating the layers of muscle and fascia around the waist of our donor cadaver to my students. I leafed through skin, external obliques, internal obliques and transverse abdominis , turning the layers over from my right hand to my left, and the sensation was not unlike turning the pages of a fabric book or magazine.

The muscle fibre directions in these layers are beautifully organised: diagonal, opposite diagonal, horizontal, like pattern pages. The students noticed too, and we discussed the description in a book on Malanggan sculpture from New Ireland by Susanne Küchler: "Malanngan" (Berg Publications 2002) of the anatomical mindset of those people who picture the body as a set of onion skins, layer after layer which one peels away to get to the skeleton. The image is very apt - to peel these layers apart you feel a translucent layer adhering , which is the body's layer of fascia. Here is a diagram which makes the page-like layers of your scalp apparent: again, pages you might turn.

Thu, 01 Mar 2018 15:09:41 +0000

Concerning Tilman Riemenschneider

Russell Hoban in the novel The Bat Tattoo writes:

"Thinking about wood and Tilman Riemenschneider. He did crucifixions and lamentations, he did annunciations and assumptions and he was never extravagant with facial expressions; he only went so far and he let the wood do the rest; Mary's face when she receives the news of the Immaculate Conception and when she looks at the dead Christ, the face ofJesus living and dead and the faces of the mourning women - all of these listen with the ghosts of trees and now there is fibreglass. "

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:05:25 +0000

From My Postcard Collection

Just added to my collection a postcard of Karl Hutton's 1950 photograph, "In a disused factory off the Portobello Road the strange factory of Gems Ltd makes wax models." Picture post 25th November 1950 copyright Hulton Deutsch Collection.

Pillows and blankets still better than bubble wrap for transporting waxworks!

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 01:18:56 +0000

Notes On Ecce Puer By Medardo Rosso 1906

This boy has been there for millennia, a stalactite deposit of salt, at once eroded by tears and thickened by the accretion of time, still glistening and growing. Our gaze pries at the veil which half conceals him, but succeeds only in pressing the gauze closer into the surface, printing fine pleats into his dermis. The eyes are blind and return our gaze blankly, the lips parted to ask who we are who look silently at the rearing slopes of his cheeks and brow, facing so bravely the winds of the years that waft this boy back in time , away from memory and into neglect – the same neglect that almost overtook his maker, the sculptor who congealed this head to a monumental bare minimum of definition. The form launches at the future as the subject backslides into the past.

The surface has the feel of beaten leather , not bronze – it is both old and fresh – a sculptural surface unlike any other deliberate patination, reminiscent of old plaster, varnished stumps, glazed meat, a shellac anatomy.

The title and the gaze tempt a literary or referential reading; a Christ child, a male Eurydice, a dazzled Icarus. But such a reading is made irrelevant by the lumpen materiality of plaster and clawed, cast clay. Unusually for a figure sculpture from the Symbolist period, in this boy, the Stuff is enough.



Photo: Dr Roberta Ballestriero 2017

Click here for details of the current Rosso show in London

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 08:02:54 +0000

The Afterlife Of A Monument In Ideology

You might have guessed I would spare a thought for the sculptor of the now notorious statue of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville. It was Henry Shrady ( 1871 - 1922) originally an amateur sculptor of pets and horses who went professional after nearly dying of Typhus made him reprioritize his life as a businessman.

He sculpted a number of huge and notable monuments to American historical figures inc Major General Alpheus Starkey Williams, a George Washington in Missouri, and most famously the Ulysses S Grant memorial in Washington, ( yes the President who worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War.) The Grant memorial was so huge and ambitious a task that he exhausted himself making it and died two weeks too early to see it unveiled. The Lee statue was finished posthumously by another sculptor.

I can't at first trawl find any mention of Shrady's own political views and I guess by the time he was sculpting Lee and Grant were already historical figures to him. Hence he got and took both commissions. What he would think of gatherings of storm troopers around his Charlottesville work one can only imagine.

New York Times article about the statue click here

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 22:03:58 +0000

I Attended A Lisa Temple-Cox Workshop In Transfert-Collé

....at the Winchester Uni Death and the Maiden conference. She, a virtuoso in this deliciously analogue and manual technique, showed us how to use PVA glue and different textures of paper and watercolour paper to transfer a computer printed image ( ok not comletely analogue I suppose) with a somewhat unpredictable degree of accuracy and erosion, to a permanent picture surface where it can be blended with drawing, paint or further collé. The atmospheric possibilities , and those for combining imagery and tones, are endless and very promising. I'm itching to try more.

Note to self: it was also a salutary lesson in relinquishing one's deathlike grip of control in the finished work. To force my eye to see what was developing on the very page rather than what my eye wanted to see and planned to see. Gently exchange intention and will for willingness and receptivity. I think this is what makes the technique quite relaxing and rewarding, although it is time consuming. The end results looked like a gift.

Other note to self: yes you fear using another artist's pet technique will leave your work looking like theirs. Actually this did not happen. All the participants' results looked distinct and unlike Lisa's own work. Mine for example had a stench of decay and disreputability quite absent from others' ethereal and nostalgic and Enlightenment-period-reminiscent productions. Ah, to know oneself...

Image: My first Transfert-Collé with some watercolour. Now, where's that glue pot....

Lisa Temple-Cox's website

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 15:14:35 +0000

Egon Schiele Material From The Albertina In Vienna

Ever since university I've had a big fondness for Egon Schiele's work and envied his drawing prowess and elegant creepiness. Great to see that in 2018 the Albertina in Vienna is planning a grand commemoration and have whetted our appetite by putting some interesting Schielabilia on their website.

Albertina's Schiele page click here

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 23:03:46 +0000

Exhibition Of Raphael Drawings At The Ashmolean, Oxford

Stacks of fine drawings at the Ashmolean's Raphael drawings show. This one jumped out at me. Lots of the figures are actors striking poses however beautifully drawn, but this young man's facial expression feels true: bored, guilty, hopeful, crafty, innocent, compromised.

Wed, 25 Jan 2017 00:09:18 +0000

To Swing A Mallet

Visiting the A&B Fine Art Foundry in the 90s I saw a pair of 9ft statues of bishops carved probably in Germany around 1630. The late Barry Flanagan had bought them to work with in his bronze projects. They were especially interesting because they were carved limewood and only three quarters finished so you could see the huge confident tool marks that went up to make the forms of the figures and, especially, the drapery. Clearly the carver had, with all his might, wrought the shapes with big blades and tremendous force, no hesitation - that's what a lifetime of swinging mallets at chisels leads to.

Seeing them started me on the path of carving, first at a carving school in Elbigenalp, Austria, then under my own steam, then with help from British expert Chris Pye, then back to Austria...a bitty, but enthusiastic apprenticeship. Now I'm in the middle of carving a large Medieval cadaver tomb, and paused to take this picture where my drapery, and the tool marks, are visible. I'm right in the middle of the job.

Comparing my work with the Baroque carvings, I see echoes but not equal craftsmanship or confidence. I guess the old carvers would have taken half as long to reach this stage. But the tools are the same, the will to form is the same, and I'm beginning to see how drapery is pure form in motion; neither liquid nor solid, neither anchored nor floating, but all these things. Next time I see some Baroque drapery in some Bavarian church or other, I'll remember finding these peaks and troughs with my chisel, and appreciate the flow. And I really WILL get round to reading Deleuze's book The Fold.

Link to Barry Flanagan's Homage to Carving 2002

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 12:20:37 +0000

An Art Student's First Experience Of An Anatomy Dissection Room Part 1

When I was a student at Central St Martin’s in London in the early 1990s the study of anatomy was a forgotten footnote in art education rather than the hot and sought after topic it is currently amongst a new generation of artists and students. Figurative art was considered then deeply reactionary, aesthetically and even politically suspect due to its history among the 20th century’s totalitarian regimes. Convinced the human body was a universal language and still could be used as an expressive medium in art, I made contact with the last art school in London to have access to a dissecting room, the Slade at University College London, and they generously allowed me to join their students on the late Professor Pegington’s Anatomy for Artists course.

His lecturing format was to explain an area of the body by slideshow , including plenty of old master paintings and drawings , of which he was often surprisingly critical as an anatomist. I remember Rubens especially came in for some irreverent ribbing, accused of showing imaginary anatomy. Then we were all led down underneath Gower St to the subterranean ( of course) dissection room, me feeling rather alone as I was moonlighting at the wrong art school. I remember feeling like Aeneas following the Cumaean sibyl down into the underworld, aware that I was entering a place of death for the first time and was about to discover “how the dead live”. All the art students were unusually sober and quiet, anxious not to appear moved but secretly afraid of losing their cool.

(Image: historical dissection room with drawings, Wellcome Collection)

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:57:37 +0000

An art student's first experience of an anatomy dissection room part 2

We were deprived of our Bohemian individuality by being asked to wear lab coats, colour coded according to one’s girth , which was deeply humiliating for the wider amongst us. As the DR door opened and we entered, I held my face still and expected nothing, but was very shocked by the sight that greeted us. The room is vastly bigger and less intimate than one might expect, like a factory floor, harshly lit by striplights and with a colour world of blue plastic floors and walls, and, lined up like workbenches, dissecting tables of stainless steel, many large vats and baths on wheels, sinks and soap dispensers, steel trays of tools, charts, plastic skeletons for reference, and ( I know you’re wondering) a strong odour of chemicals which no one could enjoy. The air in there enters your body straight away; there is no stench of corruption, but it’s an uncomfortable lungful. The real shock was that our little number of 20 students and a professor were pathetically outnumbered by the dead, who lay lined up on trolley after trolley, covered in blue plastic bags like giant whole-body shower caps. The door closed behind us and I hoped at the back of my mind that those prone forms would not take it upon themselves to sit up. We were so few, they so many; we would have stood no chance.

(Image: a typical modern dissection room looks rather like this one at St Andrews University. The steel trolleys are double-decked and rotate to bring up the lower specimen.)

Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:51:16 +0000

An Art Student's First Experience Of An Anatomy Dissection Room Part 3

I gave myself a stern talking-to to dispel these horror movie dreads. These dead were only recently alive, they were, of course, helpful, practical positive characters who wanted to help medical knowledge; perhaps they had been medics, or were grateful for medical treatments, or wanted to save their relatives from funeral costs, or wanted to carry on being useful. Their motivations were admirable, their offering of their last and most intimate possession a touching act of faith in the future. I felt unworthy of seeing them really, as I was not training to be a doctor and was there to train for a profession which is less vital, more luxurious, merely cultural compared to medicine. My feelings were very mixed as the first blue covering was removed and the body inside unwound from some damp layers of polythene.

The body one saw in such a DR is far from the neat colour-coded and graphically explained illustration of medical textbooks and far even from the wax anatomies of historical medical museums. It has been preserved with chemicals which fix and stiffen the tissues and remove the colours, and so is harder to interpret that I had expected. But the professor’s purple rubber gloves opened the spaces of the body and roved “Before, behind, between, above, below” finding muscles and tendons to identify, blood vessels and landmarks we had seen in his paintings and illustrations, a nerve here, a pacemaker there, organs detached and offered to us to hold , to hold and turn over and wonder at. How much I actually learned at that first encounter I am not sure; the experience was more a welter of physical reaction , anxiety, wonder and , in the end, exhilaration, to be in the intimate presence of a dead teacher, to be allowed to know myself , my own body, properly for the very first time.

(Image: University of Wisconsin video library, Shoulder and arm dissection.)

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