Thursday, 29 October 2015

Finished hand sculpture

Last time I posted I was very close to finishing the hand sculpture, and in fact I've had these photos and been meaning to post them for a while, but various things got in the way.


The late, great Brian Sewell once said of Damien Hirst that "all his ideas were borrowed from things seen as a boy on frequent prowlings in the university’s anatomy museum before, at 19, he left Leeds for London."  Substitute internet for anatomy museum (I should be so lucky), and that's a pretty fair description of my own creative process.

The hand is the focal point of this composition, and since it's highly detailed I've balanced it with a very simple background - just a plain canvas and a thumb print.  There isn't any reason why it's a thumbprint specifically, it's just that the linear nature of a thumbprint ties in nicely with the linear linear blood vessel structures on the hand.  In general, I like to think the composition works fairly well.

I've really enjoyed this relief sculpture, and I have ideas for a couple of others.

Monday, 19 October 2015

More on the thumb print

I've made some more progress on the thumb print I discussed last time.  From this angle you can see the shape of the ridges and how they blend into the canvas.  I wanted them to look as if they were part of the canvas rather than simply stuck onto it, and overall I think I achieved that fairly well.

From a more traditional viewing angle, the thumbprint shape is reasonably subtle.  It's a background, after all, and I don't want it to overpower the whole composition.

Next time I post, I probably will have finished this piece and will have some nice finished photos to show you.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

What to do with that hand, now I've made it?

I want to make a relief to hang on the wall with my skeletal hand.  It's a simple composition which just involves the hand superimposed on top of a thumb print.  Currently the thumb print is about half complete.

Though it's a little hard to see in that photo, the whorls of the thumb print emerge from the canvas background a little like the ripples that happen when you drop a stone into water.  

I've done this by taking the same lengths of wire wrapped in paper that I used to make the hand's vascular system, gluing them onto a canvas, then using paper to build up the forms and blend them into the canvas surface.

First stage of making the thumb print: wire ridges glued onto the canvas background.

The background looks black,  but is actually indigo.  It looks black in person, as well as to the camera, but it is richer and deeper than black acrylic, and it does a better job of blending into the blue and red tones I'm using to paint the thumb print.  These are the same colours that I used on the blood vessels of the hand, which will hopefully tie the whole thing together.

The thumb print, of course, is my own.  I took a print and blew it up on the photocopier to make it easier to see, then used that to copy the ridges.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The stupidity of New Zealand Flag Idol

Sometimes I write posts about things that are art-related, but aren't my sculptures.  The great farce that is the New Zealand Flag Referendum is both vaguely art-related and too good to miss.  It's a comedy of errors worthy of Shakespeare or Aristophanes, and we haven't even got to the voting yet.

Changing the flag is essentially a vanity project for the Prime Minister.  He wants a new flag to be his legacy and he's determined to get it, even though everybody else would rather he left a legacy of better legislation and maybe one of those surpluses he keeps promising.  The Labour party, eager to show voters they can provide more sensible leadership, vigorously oppose changing the flag - even though changing the flag is a Labour party policy

Later this year there will be a referendum in which we all get to vote on a shortlist of alternative flags, then next year the alternative with the most votes will go up against the current flag and we vote again on which one we want.

It's just like a reality TV show, and it's depressing because it's a waste of a good opportunity.   From a design perspective our flag is clunky, and it looks too much like Australia's.   Changing it for something better and more recognizable is a good idea,  but the process has been managed so badly that this is not going to happen.  

The problem stems from the way the alternatives were chosen.  The government put no effort or resources into finding an alternative flag, they simply invited the public to submit designs and then got a panel of bureaucrats to choose a shortlist.  

Predictably, this approach generated some quality joke candidates (the kiwi with laser eyes, for example), but no truly brilliant designs.  Nothing that inspires us to say "THIS is what our flag should be".  For that they would have needed to commission entries from experienced professional designers, and they didn't.  That's our government all over.  They don't understand that if you want a high quality result, you have to get a professional who really knows what they're doing, and you have to pay them.  It made sense to invite public submissions, but they should also have commissioned a couple of designs from an expert. 

The whole process might as well have been specifically designed to produce mediocre flag alternatives, and it has.  Ye gods, but it has.  These are the four finalists:

Four promo v2
Image from the Flag Consideration Project website.

They aren't bad as such, but they're boring.  They're exactly the kind of flags you would expect to get if you invited public submisions and then had a committee of bureaucrats choose a shortlist.  Unsurprisingly, the New Zealand public is unimpressed, and a recent poll by 3 News Reid Research indicates only 25% of kiwis want to change the flag.  I think a lot of this is because the choices are so uninspiring.  There are plenty of people who like the flag we have, but also a lot of people who would be open to changing it if there was a really good alternative.

Now, however, we have a fifth option.  Red Peak, shown below, didn't make it onto the shortlist, but a few people obviously like it.  They started an online petition and got 50,000 signatures, so the government has agreed to include Red Peak on the ballot.  The Prime Minister seemed happy enough to include it and has said that while he would prefer a silver fern, he likes Red Peak better than our current flag.  Those who want it will now have the opportunity to vote for it.

NZ flag design Red Peak by Aaron Dustin.svg
Red Peak.  Image from Wikipedia.

This isn't as democratic as it sounds.  50,000 is less than 1% of the population.  In fact, Red Peak is a consistently unpopular design.   A UMR Research study which investigated what people thought of the 40 possible designs found that Red Peak featured in the top five least preferred designs for every demographic they surveyed.  None of that matters.  A small but vocal minority got a petition together, so on the ballot it goes.  

If it wins the PM will get more than he bargained for, because look what happens if you take four copies of Red Peak and arrange them with the corners together:


It will be great fun for students and drunk people at sports events.  It is guaranteed to get international recognition.  But is it really the type of legacy the PM had in mind? 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Even more vascular system, because it's fun

The standard convention is to depict arteries in red and veins in blue.  I've followed this convention with my hand structure, and it now has some nice blue veins to go with the palm arteries.

I'm really pleased with my hand's vascular system.  I like to think those twisting, curling blood vessels capture the look of the real thing.  They have a nice, organic sense of movement that's very satisfying.  Compared to the vascular system of a real hand, this is simplified, because I don't want it to be all veins and arteries with the bones hidden underneath them.  The bones need to be visible too.

This next photo is taken from the side looking at the thumb, and shows how the blood vessels twist around the bones.

And here's another shot of the palm.  Having little blue veins as well as the arteries looks better, because that's what we expect to see and because having both the red and blue colours gives the sculpture more depth.

That's all I'll be doing with the vascular system for now, but I want to use this hand as part of a relief sculpture and the background will echo the shapes of the hand's blood vessels.  

Saturday, 19 September 2015

More vascular system

This time it's the blood vessels on the back of the hand.

I'll do a few veins in the palm, and then I'll be finished.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Time to give the hand a vascular system

In some ways this is my favourite bit.  I'm fascinated by the vascular system and I love making blood vessels, even though it does take forever.  I like the way they curl and twist around.  If you look at blood vessels, you see they don't grow in straight lines.  Anatomical diagrams tend to simplify the shapes of the blood vessels to make it easier to see what goes where, a bit like railway route maps.  With the real thing there's a lot more variation.

What you're looking at here is the main arterial system from the palm of the hand, with the superficial palmar arch and the deep palmar arch, plus the digital arteries branching off into the fingers.

These arteries are made from wire wrapped with paper.  The wire is mostly "reclaimed" from a knackered appliance that I binned last week, and it's great for this kind of thing.  Each wire is made up of individual strands about the same diameter as hairs, which I can use to make arteries of all sizes.  

The arteries start off looking like this:

Then they get a coat of paint, and I glue them to the skeleton.  The standard convention is to show arteries in red and veins in blue, so my arteries are red - actually a mixture of alizarin, cadmium red, and quinacridone magenta with a slight hint of Payne's grey.  The next thing will be to make arteries for the back of the hand, and some veins for the palm.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Hand bones, finished and painted

My goal here was to get a nice layered finish on the hand bones.  I find bone hard to paint, partly because it's tricky to mix a convincing bone colour that isn't too yellow or too brown or too white, and partly because bone has a translucent quality to it that's hard to emulate.  I got as close as I could with a complicated process that involves four separate layers:

  • A mix of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.  This is what a painter would call the underpainting.
  • A fairly thick coat of the main colour, which is achieved by mixing white, ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, and a tiny bit of ultramarine. 
  • A thin wash of white with a very small amount of ochre.
  • Another thin wash of ultramarine and burnt umber which I wipe off with a rag until only traces of it are left.  This settles in the low-lying areas of the sculpt, where it brings out the details and creates shadow.  It also helps delineate where one bone ends and the next one begins.

Mostly I use regular tap water to thin the paint when I make colour washes, but this time I used glazing medium.  It behaves differently to water.  When water dries it evaporates, leaving only the pigment behind, but glazing medium is essentially a form of varnish and retains some body even after it dries.  This gives it a bit more depth and rounds out the shape of the sculpture slightly.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Wrist bones

Following on from the finger bones in my last post, here are the wrist bones.  Overall I think they're quite successful.  Making them out of paper gives them a slightly rough texture that I like to think works well for bone.

Yes, all eight wrist bones are present and each is made individually because in fact it's easier that way.  They start out as paper blobs, and then I gradually refine the shape with several more layers of paper.  I find it's best to make a basic shape first and let that dry, then go back and build up the shape in layers, because each layer of paper shrinks as it dries.  In the next photo you can see the wrist bones halfway through this process.  I've done the first four, and I'm starting on number five.

Next, the hand needs part of the radius and ulna bones, and then comes the hard part: painting it.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Hand bones

In between various life stuff I have managed to get in some sculpture this week, and I think this one has potential to be quite cool.

I've been making a hand.  Eventually this will have the veins and arteries, and possibly some of the nerve fibers.  It will be like an anatomical specimen.

The bones are made from paper wrapped around a piece of wire, which joins the different bones together and lets me bend the fingers, and they're more or less life-size.  Now I have to do the wrist bones, then the radius and ulna.  To be honest with you, I'm not really looking forward to the wrist bones.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Finally, something new

Yes, it has been a while.  I'm sorry about that, but it is what it is.  I have plenty of ideas, but not much opportunity to work them up into actual sculpture.  The ideas just don't seem to want to come out of my head.  Maybe they're not ready yet, but it is frustrating.  This week though I've been having a play with these feather shapes.

This is the second feather I made... first attempt wasn't quite so successful.

The eye shapes are made with a mould and the feather is built up around them.  It took me a couple of goes to figure out how to get the feather to look nice, and the first attempt didn't come out very well, but the second attempt looks okay and I think I could do something fun with these feathers.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The fractal subdivision

The fractal subdivision.  Made from canvass, paper and acrylic paints.

Yes, it's a predictable title for my cubist experiment, but sometimes the obvious ones are the best.

From the front the relief is monochromatic and is really all about shape and texture.  When you stand directly in front of it the coloured paint is hard to see, but as you change your viewing angle the different colours become more visible.

I haven't framed the picture because I wanted parts of it to wrap around the sides of the canvass.  The composition is made up of square and rectangular blocks, and without a frame the canvass itself becomes one of those blocks, which is better than just having it sitting in the background not interacting with anything else.  I actually think this picture might look silly in a frame.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Even more cubist buildings

The wind here has died down long enough or me to spray paint some more fractal elements for my cubist relief.  Here they are:

A bit empty, maybe?

As well as townhouses and retaining walls, we now have a line of older buildings on top of a hill overlooking the new construction.  

While the foreground buildings at the bottom left utilise Menger sponges, the other structures are made using the two-dimensional version of this fractal, Sierpinsky's carpet.

Right now I'm unsure whether to leave it as is, or add some more stuff.  I don't want the canvass to become too busy and overcrowded, but at the same time I want to get across the impression of lots of identical buildings crowded together.

I guess I'll sleep on it and see what I think in the morning.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

More fractal structures

These simplified stripes represent massive retaining walls.  The subdivision I'm looking at is essentially built on terraces, into the side of a hill.  Wellington hills are made of clay, and retaining walls like this are necessary to prevent landslips.  Mind you, you see houses hanging off the side of cliffs at all angles in this city, and some of them have been there for a hundred years.

This is where I used the cadmium red I talked about last time.  The retaining walls are brownish coloured with red undertones, but not that bright in real life.  Bright red looks nice on the canvass though and does a good job of highlighting the vertical elements of the retaining walls.  I'm also finding that the accent colours I use have to be quite bright to compete with the chrome paint.

Using contrasting textures also helps to emphasise the structures' vertical elements, but they're all made entirely out of paper cubes, just like the original Menger sponge I made. 

Friday, 27 March 2015

The first cubist buildings

Here are the first buildings from the subdivision across the motorway, rendered as a series of fractal cubes.  As I said last time, I want to create a landscape out of Menger sponges.

I've sprayed the structures with rust-coloured primer and chrome silver paint, and picked out some details in coloured acrylic.  These buildings have subtle accent colours in blue and green, but I also plan to use bright cadmium red accents in some places.

The buildings are based (loosely, obviously), on ones I can see from my house.  Here they are, in the middle of the picture above the green car:

This is the view I'll be working with, but since this is an abstract piece I'm much more interested in creating an interesting composition than accurately recording the landscape.

Monday, 16 March 2015

No, I didn't fall off the edge of the world

I just haven't had any good ideas for a while, and if you don't have any ideas there's no point in doing anything. 

Then on Friday I got bored waiting for some code to compile and I started making a Menger sponge.

Level 2 Menger sponge from the side

Level 2 Menger sponge from the top

That one is a level 2 Menger sponge.  It's made up of 20 of these level 1 sponges, which in turn are each made up of 20 paper spirals pinched into little cubes.

Level 1 Menger sponge

I thought using spirals to make the Menger sponges would underline the fractal nature of the shape.  Then I thought that if I made a whole bunch of Menger sponges I could arrange them into a landscape.  An abstract landscape, of course.  Cubist, even.  But then a lot of city landscapes are rather cubist anyway.  The subdivision across the gorge from my house is a case in point.  So I went and got a big canvass, and I plan to make a relief sculpure of that subdivision with the Menger shapes.  It'll be really fun if I can turn a boring housing development into an interesting landscape.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Finally got the dragon skin finished

The dragon skin is now painted in subtle green and brown tones.  For some reason, the paint looks better in photos than it does in real life.  Why?  I have no idea.  But it looks pretty good in photos.

The skin texture really helps here, I think.  This is also true of the wings, where the paint has picked up the texture and enhanced it.  Unlike the body, the wing membranes have come out very green with a slight hint of brown underneath.  It's exactly the same paint sloshed all over the sculpt, it's just generated different effects in different areas.  I suspect it has to do with how the underlying material absorbs the paint.

And here's a photo of the whole thing:

Thursday, 15 January 2015

I'm back

Happy New Year, internet!  Sorry I've been absent for so long.  I haven't forgotten this blog, or gotten sick of it, it's just that I haven't had any good ideas recently.  You can't do this sort of stuff if you don't have any good ideas, because it ends up being boring and disappointing for everybody.

But I now have a head for the dragon skin I've been working on.  It's a beaky, bird-like head.

With the head attached to the body, the whole thing looks like this.

Not too bad.  I'm pleased with how the scales have worked out.  Of course, there's nothing sophisticated or clever about the scales.  They are lentils.  The smaller scales are represented using quinoa seeds.  Here's what the head looks like underneath the outer layers of paper: