Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sculpture Art- combining Aesthetics and Function

I just finished this new baby elephant Sculpture Art Pendant called Baby Steps and I am so pleased with the results. I've always had a special affinity for elephants, one look into their eyes and I feel I've connected with an old soul. All babies are adorable, but a new elephant calf is especially so, with all their lumbering enthusiasm and clumsiness, and I wanted to capture that feeling in this piece. 

One of my concerns during the conception phase was how to not only make this have an appealing look but also how to make sure it was a solid sturdy piece suitable for wearing. My other Sculpture Art pendants all have a strong cross bar worked into the design. I make the bar a branch or leaf and it works with the design, but elephants aren't especially know for their branch clinging abilities :) 

I could have had the trunk wrapped around a branch, but I try to keep my pendants around a two inch diameter size, so that they are wearable without being too bulky or ostentatious, and that idea was just not going to work here. I obviously needed a solid footing for this piece. This also excluded me from using a circular wire frame as it would not give a wide enough base. 

I had a lot of ideas, but discarded them one by one, either for aesthetic or functional reasons. Sometimes the most simple and logical ideas elude me, I guess it's because an artist tends towards flights of fancy too easily. When I block on something like this I try using free form word connection to see if leads me anywhere. I just tried to think of any words that have to do with an elephant. When I got to tusks I almost kept going, it seems to be an overdone idea, plus I hate the idea that elephants are endangered due to tusk harvesting.

But then I realized that tusks are a physical part of the elephant, one of their means of survival. There's probably hundreds of ways to use tusks in a composition, but only when I started to think about the tight knit bond between clan members, did this design come to mind; a protective circle signifying group unity and protectiveness. Yes, I simple that it should have been a no brainer, but what can I say?

So, once the idea is formed then I begin to think of functionality. It does no good to create a lovely sculpture and then have it fall out of its setting. The more points that connect to the setting, the better the solidity, but you still have to keep it aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I knew I could reinforce the meeting place where the tusks joined together with a good solid sterling silver wire wrap...this also gave it a loop for hanging. 

I sculpted the elephant to fit the piece, but did not affix it until the end. That way I get good 3 dimensional details from every angle, not something doable in a tight space. I constantly fit it to the frame though, so that I know I'll have some good solid connection points. I did the whole body with the upper leg bone (but not the lower leg) and then baked it. This allows me to work with attaching it since I can now put a good grip on the body without squishing it. 

The issue is that I cannot put too much pressure on the joins with the lower legs still being malleable, and although it may seem to bond, one good knock can dislodge it later on. No problem, the wonderful thing about polymer is that it can be baked repeatedly, and when joined correctly, forms a bond between the polymer particles that creates one solid piece. 

So I baked it in place and then once it cooled gave it the knock test. And just as I suspected, it dislodged. So I drilled a very small hole in the bottom of the connecting feet and in two spots on the tusk frame. I then put a drop of liquid sculpey in there, which when mixed with the clay acts the same as a slip does in pottery. I put a small glob of clay in between the two pieces and then pushed the sculpture firmly in place. I held it there while I packed the clay in and cleaned up the oozing around it. 

Once I felt I had an aesthetically pleasing finish, with a solid bonding, I then propped the piece on a wadded up piece of cotton material (at 275© it's perfectly safe) so that it would retain the position I put it in. When the clay bakes there is a moment when the piece softens before it hardens and this is when a piece can get warps in it, so the cloth pillow ensures it won't flatten or sag. 

This time (when I tested it after a good long cool down period) it didn't budge with the knock test and my eye could see a clean solid connection between the two. I always put a clear acrylic finish on my Sculpture Art Pendants, this also acts as a bonding agent and reinforces the overall piece. 

So now that I have all the work of aesthetics and function worked out I can finally sit back and enjoy the actual subject...what a cute little guy!



  1. I can "see" the love that went in to this cute litte elephant. The way you sculpt his ears with all the folds. And his face I can see the feeling in his face. I love how you go in to such detail not only with your scultures but with how you talk about why or how you did something.
    Great work as always.

  2. This is great Sue! I love this one the most. I really love the aesthetic and proportions of the elephant, the dynamism, and is so cute! I think you've got something very especial going on there, Sue. Keep it up!

    BTW, do you remember the baby elephant walk from the movie Hatari? And the comical soundtrack by Henry Mancini?

  3. thank you Linda...sometimes I'm not sure who I'm talking to lol but very glad it's interesting :D

  4. Ah Koldo, thank you so much :) And I so remember, even thought about titling it Elephant Walk, but that is so done lol


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