Good Bad/Bad Good


So how is it that a work of art results from an urge to make things?  The mechanics are as follows for sculpture; wire, clay, rubber mold, wax, and metal. These are linear sequential steps. Foot fall by foot fall until the end result. But then, how do I accept that an idea can manifest itself in a substantive three-dimensional version that’s sitting before me on a table? Is it real? In how real? Does it reach the critical mean of life, it breathes, its true to the subjects absolutes of form and function? Is it merely a visual copy of life, like a photograph illustrating the make and model of a certain animal? Is it an illustration of life? And if it meets that criteria, does it go further and pass muster as supreme reality; its lives and breathes as a substitute for the actual animal facing me at that moment? Seeing and accepting reality, sifting through my artist’s eye while attempting to reproduce life into an artwork. Does it come full circle? Does this mean its art, this illustrative rendition in clay or wax?

When I was going though college in my 20’s I thought the main goal of an artist was to reproduce what I saw onto paper or clay. When I look back on this, I think I was very wet behind the ears, fresh out of the box. I didn’t understand what art could be more than only what it was if it appeared to mimic reality. How wrong I was but you couldn’t convince me otherwise during this wet behind the ears period in my life. This was my Andy Warhol period when as art students we were painting giant products, mine were matchbooks picked up from a Papagallo’s shoe store in Broad Ripple, Indiana. I later began to understand what other artists had learned through observation and subsequent experimentation to find more than just the obvious. Example; Pollock and Picasso.

So, as I’ve taken this journey I’ve found it difficult to accept an up or down critical review of art. My art or somebody else’s art. It’s bad, it’s good? So what is it, good bad, bad good? Even a no response is a response; it doesn’t move me, does my reptilian brain respond to it, does it strike me in my heart, or makes me swoon with the beauty of its expression, or does it make me feel ill at the threat of what it can mean as it sucks the air out of the room and stops me dead in my tracks as I’m unable to commit to it one way or the other. Good or bad. Up or down, right or wrong. Who determines this I ask? What is art? Is it an essential truth? Is truth totally irrelevant to art? Or just copying nature?


Well, not really the surface of the moon but to me it looks like it might be related to the moon. My foam armature of a horse. A big horse. So, as things are moving forward with the square chunks of green foam and a few blue ones (leftovers in my small studio behind my house where most of my molds are stored right now), I’ve moved to the canned spray foam you would buy at Lowe’s or the local hardware store. I could use a more professional grade foam from one of my art supply places, but it’s got smelly issues and I really shouldn’t be using it in a closed space without really good respirators and big windows opened wide. So, I use the do-it-yourself cans and let it set up then apply some more, while I go do something else. Or, there are big blocks of polyurethane foam you (or me) can carve to the shape of an animal or human or whatever. I don’t like doing this reductive method, because, well I’m a modeler, I apply clay, carve it back a bit, but mostly add clay to an armature. I don’t do stone carving and I haven’t tried carving a block of wood, yet.


I’ll use the chunks of foam again when putting his neck together. Then I’ll use foam to tune it to a more organic shape. Big to little, opposite in oil painting which is fat over thin. Fat is oily oil paint, thin is oil paint thinned with turpentine for the underpainting. So big chunks or broad expanses of foam from an 4′ by 8′ sheet of 2″ construction foam, then itty bitty pieces of spray foam that look like a moonscape until I grind it smooth with my manly man grinder sander.

Foam on . . .

Foam to Foam

I placed my clay maquette of the horse near my foam form for reference and measurements. I’ve taken the rider off the horse so I can concentrate on building the horse first; build the house first and once it’s done, the cupola goes on top. This is to avoid having to raise the rider at all once I put the saddle on the horse.


I score the foam pieces and break them along the scored line to make small chunks. They don’t have to be exact, I’m just looking for volume. I apply hot glue and place them on the model. These chunks of foam will allow the spray foam to stick to them and fill all the crevices and flesh out the model. I drive a bamboo skewer into the pieces to hold them to the form. So it’s foam to foam with my hot glue gun and bamboo skewers.


I have eight foot ceilings so I will make the neck and head of the horse removable and the rider once she’s sculpted. My sculpting table raises and lowers so I can drop him down while working on the head and neck and the rider. Right now I have the body of the horse at the height he would be at his wither, nearly 17 hands tall. I have to make the model slightly larger so I can compensate for the shrink of the bronze when it’s cast.

Tomorrow I will put more pieces along his shoulder blades and across his chest. And cut out the area between his front legs and back legs.

Foam on . . .

Wood Pipe Foam Clay

Folks ask me how a bronze sculpture is created so I’m going describe the steps in this blog. So here we go.

I’ve already created the smaller version called a maquette which I will use to enlarge it to life-size version. It’s a process that’s been utilized by artists for hundreds of years. If not longer. There is an other method of enlarging a smaller sculpture to a larger one through digital enlargement. If I were making a sculpture like a bear with a dense base etc., it might work better but for horses with fine legs, necks, heads, and tails, I want the option to tweet the design. These things evolve, at least mine do. Digital enlargement saves time for artists but I find the front in time-saving doesn’t always work for me.

I use the same method of construction for a small sculpture or a large one. It’s wood, steel, pipe, foam and finally clay. I learned this very important part of making sculpture from the first foundry I cast my work at Bear Paw Bronze in Scottsdale, Arizona. Loren Phippen showed me how to make an all-purpose armature which I use to this day. For this life-size horse and rider I need big pieces of foam and pipe.


Construction Grade Foam Insulation

A trip to the lumber yard is in order for these projects. I need 4′ by 8′ sheets of construction grade insulation which isn’t styrofoam it’s a polyurethane foam. I can’t cut it with a heat knife (poison vapors) like I could with the white foam used in insulated coffee cups. I could use the styrofoam but it breaks into pieces and gets everywhere. Nasty stuff. And it doesn’t have the density of the construction insulation used in houses.

I’ll cut these pieces into the general shape of the subject I’m going to sculpt using serrated knives, wood saws, box cutters and rasps. I use power-sanders too, but that’s the final stage before I apply the clay. But first, I have to secure a steel pipe for support of the whole statue. This is plumbing pipe which comes in different sizes. For this statue the pipe is 1 1/4″ by 34″. I also need a T coupling for the top of the pipe which I’ll use to secure the horse’s rider. This is half the height of the horse from the ground to his wither. I will fasten another piece of pipe to this pipe after I get his body made so I can attach his legs . With these big pieces I prefer to make the sections first then assemble the whole thing when I start the clay application.


Steel Plumbing Pipe Flange

I use a plywood base to secure the pipe to, this piece is smaller than the eventual base I’ll use for the ease of moving it around and the relative light weight of the foam armature. And I use a table I can raise and lower making it easier on my back. I’ll be making the body of the horse first, fleshing out the shape by laminating the pieces of foam together. My goal is to get as close to the shape of the piece before I apply the clay.


Insulation Spray Foam Application

The large pieces of foam have to be attached to the support pipe. I do this by cutting out an indention on each piece so I can put the foam together with glue and spray insulation foam (which acts as a glue). I use bamboo skewers to secure the pieces together and duct tape to make sure everything stays in place until the foam sets up. After this first step, the lamination portion of the armature construction goes faster. But first I need to leave it overnight so I have a good base to build on. I can’t tolerate a flexible armature. This photograph shows the hole I cut in the foam sheet to insert more foam at the bottom of the interior pipe.

Leaping Horses


A while back I stopped in Camden, S.C. to visit the Steeplechase Museum to take a look at the site where a statue of the Eclipse winner Flatterer will be installed. I met with the museum director and toured the museum. We went over their ideas for the portrait and Flatterer’s impressive history. I got some pretty emphatic direction on what they didn’t want in the bronze portrait. I’m game for making everyone happy so got their concerns. I left with a stack of images, a book about Flatterer and a promise to work up some images for their review. These projects take a lot of lead time so I typically try to get some sketches down on paper as soon as I can. And when other statues are on my modeling stand I have to wait on foam to set up for the next application. So, I draw. Or fidget.


I usually sketch in the mornings though. I’m fresh, the ideas have been boiling up in my mind before my first cup of coffee so I’m ready and my pen gets going. Here’s one of my quick morning sketches. I like the idea of the tack on him, makes sense to me since he’s a using horse and not just a stallion in repose in a courtyard or mare and foal gracing a field. So I’m off to the races on leaping horses . . .


I was prepared. My small clay models were packed into cardboard boxes set to be assembled for my presentation. My models included a whitetail stag, doe and two fawns, a black bear sow and two cubs and even an African lion and lioness. I didn’t create a maquette of the Diana the Huntress, but included a drawing of my concept. I looked forward to the next step in our meeting. Giving my thoughts and inspiration behind each of the models, the final choice was the deer group. To my delight my muse loved the feminine on the right (doe and two fawns), and the masculine on the left (the buck). She expressed a desire for them to appear as if they just walked out of the woods onto a meadow. And they were to wear garlands of flowers around their necks. I welcomed the challenge.

My task as an artist is governed by my own constraints, I will do no harm. I  strive to create an object in bronze that conveys something organic, naturalistic and beautiful. Making a sculpture is hard work. But it’s fun, even exhilarating. When the clay gets to where I want it to be, I build on that tenuous perch. I carve it back, and apply more. I tend to the heated clay while sculpting to keep it just right. Not too hot and not too cool. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The hot clay burns my hands and becomes a liquid if too hot. Too warm, and it runs off the model. If it cools too much it becomes inert, hard to press onto the model. I try to be economical in my actions but it never works out that way. I go where it leads me.

Once I dove into this project my research bought to light what I had forgotten about whitetail deer. I had a pet deer as a teenager, but a long time had passed since I had a deer eating from one of my horse’s feed buckets. As a fawn he was delivered to our farm in the arms of one of the soldier’s drilling on the one weekend of the month. Not realizing he wasn’t abandoned, but placed where his mother hid him for the day, he unfortunately lost his mother and joined our little animal farm.

Sam lived in my barnyard with my horses until he grew old enough to be let out into the world. My father had built a corral eight feet tall out of half round planks for my horses. So Sam and my Arabian stallion lived together. Sam would follow you around like you were his mother, when he got older he’d head butt you much like a goat does, and play fight. Something I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do but I was a kid and didn’t know any better. After we opened the gate and let him go when the hunting season was over in the fall he was on his own. He lingered in the pastures with the other horses for a while, but strayed an ever wider range from the fenced pastures into the wild. Eventually, in the years following, he led a small band of does and kept close by in the fields behind our house. I’d ride my horse nearby and he wouldn’t leave, he’d just observe me as I passed by on the horse he grew up with. An acknowledgment of our moment that had passed with an elegant regard for each others place in this world.

I thought of Sam while I worked on my deer sculptures. Tumbling towards my youth as soon as I picked up a modeling tool, he would take me back to Camp Atterbury circa 1970.  I enjoyed my time with the deer thinking of how relationships can be unearthed in the most unexpected way.  Art can do this.