SHOUT is a big (for me) piece, and probably the most difficult glass casting I’ve done to date. SHOUTing, part I was about the problems I ran into. This post is about how I fixed them.
SHOUT caricatures domestic violence, and as such needed to be large, looming and menacing. I wanted the pieces to interact with each other, at angles that would change the viewer’s perceptions based on how the piece was lit and positioned.
Unfortunately, my little Skutt bathtub was made for glass fusing, not casting, which meant that (a) it was too shallow and (b) probably couldn’t heat evenly enough to support my original design (which connected the figures through a thick glass base with lots of stressful right angles). I could have done it with a work 8 inches tall…but SHOUT needed to shout. (The final piece is a bit more than 24 inches tall)
So I shelved the project, and went on to other things while I puzzled it out.
Please note: Someone mentioned that, if asked for the time, I’d explain how to build the clock. I’m taking that to mean I’m loooooong-winded and a pain in the pundit, which is what happens when a writer gets to edit herself. Sorry about that.
As designed, the individual figures had so many twists and turns that each would need at least two reservoirs for glass (or a very tall kiln) to be completed in a single casting. And since they were covered with detail, I was having trouble finding one place to site a reservoir, let alone several.
After months of pondering (and the extremely helpful BEcon conference on casting), I realized that casting individual body parts took up a lot less space. If I created the final piece in wax, carefully cut heads and bodies apart and built separate molds and reservoirs for each, I could fit them all into my 13-inch high kiln. Then I’d make shape corrections to the individual components, stick them together and conceal the joins with wax “bondo,” and build a completely enclosed mold around each figure.
Instead of multiple space-hogging glass reservoirs in the final casting, I’d need just one small reservoir, directly over the join, to supply the “fusing” glass. As long as each figure took up no more than nine inches or so in a castably vertical direction, they’d fit into my little kiln. Besides, casting pieces separately would give me a measure of control over color placement in the heads.
So now I had a plan. I started work on the models, and it went relatively quickly once I got going.
Casting experts, please stop laughing. Yes, I KNOW the solution to most of this is “Get a bigger kiln, dummy,” or maybe “work smaller, dummy.” I’m not pretending to be a casting expert, so there are probably better solutions. OTOH, this project was just as much about not being limited by my equipment as it was making the art. And I had fun coming up with the duct tape to make it work.
The original heads, meant to sit flat on the backs of their heads, needed hair. I wanted it to add movement to the figures, so ShoutingMan’s hair curved straight and hard toward his target. (and, on a whim, I shaped two front locks into devil horns)
The Reactor’s hair was blown back and crumpled, as if it were failing in a strong wind. In both, I left the hair as rough as I dared–the more hard angles, the more likely they would act as facets, catching fire in the light.
I built the bodies of hollow wax cylinders, adding, subtracting, twisting and bending them for the angles I needed (which is a pain in the neck when you’re using thin wax sheets).
ShoutingMan’s head needed to be almost perpendicular to the ground so he could loom over The Reactor, and rather than align the heads along the same plane I wanted them almost at right angles to each other.
That proved to be a problem–to reduce steamout time (which can ruin a mold), I’d built hollow bodies. Newly crowned with a LOT of hair, the heads were heavier than the bodies. As soon as the wax warmed to my fingers, ShoutingMan’s head tended to fall off, which made maintaining angles difficult.
Normally I use wooden skewers for braces, but they didn’t have enough to grab onto in the hollow bodies. I finally solved the self-decapitation problem by working on one figure for about 20 minutes, then sticking it outside in the cold to cool and harden while I worked on the other figure.
Once the waxes looked good, I photographed them from just about every angle so I’d know how to put them back together…then cut off their heads and started spruing them up for investment. The heads were still so tall that, to fit in my kiln, they needed to be positioned at a steep angle (left).
The reservoir needed to admit as much glass as possible without messing up the sculpting–I positioned them slightly above the neck opening on the back of the heads and hoped I could recarve the detail with coldworking. I marked the most featureless continuous line possible on each body, added a quarter-inch strip of wax along it as a gate, and built large reservoirs for glass atop that. The skinny gate meant I’d have less to cut off and coldwork later.
- Thin facecoat of alumina hydrate, hydrocal and EPK with a generous dollop of Bullseye kilnwash, painted directly on the wax with a big soft brush.
- Reinforcing strips of fiberglass tape, soaked in a standard 50/50 plaster/silica, wrapped around extensions and crackable angles.
- Strength layer of plaster/silica mixed with ludo (crushed, already-fired investment) and a little talc.
I had the luxury of not placing the glass in a wet mold; instead, I ran the molds through a drying cycle first and loaded the glass (carefully) into the reservors once dry. That would increase the transparency of the glass, something that was going to take a beating in the second casting.
The pieces came out of the firing well. Now for the hard part: putting them together. They weren’t an exact fit so they’d be difficult ot glue with anything that didn’t leave a residue in the glass. Instead, I built investing cradles that would hold them in the right position.
I put a thicker-than-usual facecoat on one side with some reinforcing strips. When it hardened, the mold itself held the pieces in place while I added a small glass reservoir at the join and made the rest of the mold.
That’s about it. The Rhubarb did its glorious, rich best (as usual), the Burnt Scarlet works well with Rhubarb whether it’s doing its brown, rose or green thang.
I’d planned to have a steel stand built to immobilize the figures (I’d cast holes in the base to accept locking pins). When the photographer (Paul Foster) and I started playing with SHOUT, though, the best part was the ability to rearrange the figures freely and really change the impact of the piece. In the end, I decided to hone the bases perfectly flat and literally let them stand on their own. (Museum gel, anyone?)
In the final analysis, what would I change? Aside from buying a bigger kiln, not a whole lot. I’d rather have cast these in a single, one piece firing, which would have been much faster, less work and been easier on the glass (especially the transparency). That might have let me us BE’s lovely transparent red without so much opacification. OTOH, given the subject matter, opaque red stripes look like warpaint and kinda work.
So…making SHOUT wasn’t not magic or even particularly clever engineering. But it was one way to shoehorn a lot more casting into a kiln than you’d think possible, and let me finally finish one of the many models hanging around my studio, waiting for the right equipment.
And it was a lot of fun.