Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Art of Punting

When Chopper and I get in a tough situation and don't really know a solution, one of us will say to the other, 'Well, we'll just have to punt.' The best description I could find for punting (a football term) is  'You may have to give up the ball, but you can make it a lot tougher for the other team to get it to your end zone.' 

Sometimes when creating art you get to a problem that seems insurmountable, but you have no choice except to find some kind of a solution, or the whole piece won't work. That's when you have to stop thinking in a linear pattern and go outside the box. It may not be the original intent to work that way, but it may keep your work from fighting you as you go.

For example: I'm trying to get a character sculpted that has a twist in the center of their body which sets their head 'just so' and windmilling arms. I don't like using armatures for two reasons...first, I like to be able to adjust position and can't if it's too stiff and second, I also tend to get carried away when sculpting and since my clay is so malleable I'm likely to undercut or push something in right to the armature sometimes. I work small, so it's usually not a problem when it comes to bearing its own weight. 

I also usually lock down the bottom of the piece (which helps to hold it in place) to an upside down plate which works as my turning wheel. On this sculpture I can't because it is two pieced and I have to pick it up and put it with the other piece constantly to check for fit. Eventually the two will be joined on a single base. So I have to sculpt it in my hand...the heat from my hand softens the clay, so eventually I lose my twist or the angle of my arms. 

I don't like to fire my pieces before I have it pretty close to the final product. Polymer clay will get hard in a freezer, but will soften within about 15 minutes after you pull it out to work on it. So there's no way to set the shape permanently except by heat. And even though I can sand, carve or add more clay after it's baked, that's a lot of un-necessary work when it's rough and pitted. 

Another issue is that I don't want to get the shape, put it in the freezer to set and then put right in a hot oven. Mind...I've done that before, we're talking low heat here, and all I've gotten is a little water in recesses when it's done. But a niggling voice in my head says that one day I might just get a cracked or exploded piece doing things this way. 

So that's my dilemma, how to set the shape, keep it until fired, and still be able to work it. Well, that's where punting comes in. I obviously have to do something or I will end up with a position that isn't exactly what I feel the piece needs. The longer I fight it, the worse things will probably get.

So...first I have made the decision that getting the shape set permanently  is more important than having a lot of hard shaping work ahead. The trouble is that I still have a soft piece in my hand, how do I shape it to work with the other piece exactly how I want it and then not have it sag in the oven?  I have wire, but it's thin and bendable and good for joining, but not supporting pieces. Think, girl, think!

My eyes fall on my supply of toothpics...I use them as a roller to smooth areas, to mix a paint or indent a corner. They're longer than the arms (which aren't even equal length yet) but hey...I can always cut off the ends when the piece is hard, or if I'm really lucky, pull them straight out (yah, right). 

That works and I think I've done enough in the shoulder and back area to be able to work with the position. So it set it next to the other piece and darn if I haven't lost a little of the twist to the waist, which controls the angle of the head. Double punt! Do I grab my hair dryer and try to set it while holding it, once I have it in the right position again? Noooooo....I don't like crispy fingers. How do I keep that position? 

Well, sorry little guy, but I think if I jam another toothpick up from your posterior through the back while it's turned just right, it might just hold long enough through the baking to lock things in place. As I write this, it's still a mystery how well it's worked, the bake cycle is done, but not the cooling. 

If there was a slight sag I may be able to work with it or I may have to do some shimming with fresh clay. I'd wanted to join the fresh clay to the base (made of the same material and therefore chemically fuseable and better so wet to wet or wet to dry), but I'll have to use a very thin sheet and a very solid bond to both surfaces anyways now, so the shimming will just be a logistical issue. 

Maybe using the toothpicks sound like a simple solution that anyone would think of right off the bat. But the problem is that I had it already in my head that I didn't want to fire this piece yet and that set fact wanted to push away any creative solution I might come up with. By at least allowing myself to entertain the idea in order to save my work, I allowed myself to cast around for obvious solutions. There's times I've walked through the house several times, just opening cupboard doors and drawers and looking in supply boxes, hoping something my eyes land on would give me a hint of how to fix something.

When you run into a problem you have a few options, you can see if what you've got will still work, even if it's not exactly what you envisioned it may be a happy accident that actually improves the whole thing. You can give up and say this is too hard, I must not be good enough to do this, and then, of course, your work will never reach the heights you've hoped for. Or you can punt, either finding a way to make it work or a way to approach things differently that will work. 

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