Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Adventures of The Waffle-Head Grenade Dudes

Even though Merican-Tastic! II: The Son of Tastic! doesn't open for another 6 months, it really isn't too early to start developing promotional images (especially for any kind of printed publications with calendars -which typically work at least 3-6 months in advance of the event).  It seems foolish to have a studio full of potential images that could be used and not go the extra step of getting them out into the world.

I'm not even 100% sure that I will use images these for the show (-show promotion, that is), but I have a series of cast plastic 'Waffle-Head Dudes' that I made for a mold-making demonstration at Northwest Missouri State University back in 2011.

I had my sculpture students purchase a casting starter kit from Smooth-On.  It came with excellent 'how to' materials (click here to see the starter kit we used).  It had all the necessary materials to make a cast, a DVD with thorough instructions, and a catalog with more products and ideas for future projects.  As long as the kids keep the DVD, they will always be able to access the information on how to cast something.

This is the bisque fired 'Waffle-Head Dude' that I made to cast.  I wanted to have something with deep indentations all the way around the circumference so my students could see the difficulty in casting something like that.  The indentations make it difficult for the mold to detach from the original.  In fact, if you use strictly a hard mold (no rubber inner mold) you run the risk of having to destroy the mold just to free your original before you ever cast a single piece.  Basically, I wanted this to be just at the edge of 'failing', so they could get an idea of what you can get away with.

The Smooth-On website has blow-by-blow videos of the process (which are FAR better than anything I will portray here).  This is my inner mold made out of multiple coats of rubber.  You can see the details in reverse from the original piece.

The kit also includes the materials to make a hard outer shell that 'contains' the inner rubber mold and allows it to keep its shape.

Starting to fit the halves together.

Notice how the seam for the hard outer shell does not follow the seam for the soft rubber inner mold.  This helps lock everything into place for casting.

Everything put together.

If I were actually going to cast this, I would turn the mold upside-down and pour the two-part plastic into the hole.  After about five minutes the clear liquid plastic hardens into a white solid plastic (giving off a noticeable amount of heat in the process).

Downward view of the mold.  If I were gonna cast it, I would pour the plastic in here.

Back in 2011 I cast as many as I could with the two-part plastic that came with my kits.

Two years later it is now time to clean up my final pieces by grinding off all of the fins and burs and such.  The fins are caused when the fluid used in casting flows along a seam/joint in a mold (i.e. where the two halves come together).  Burs are air bubbles (or other imperfections) that might have occurred when the soft layer of the mold was applied and a rogue air bubble might have been trapped creating a raised part on the final cast.

These are things that don't happen often when you are proficient/careful at mold-making/casting, but since I wanted to make a piece that would showcase some of the challenges (and solutions) when making molds, I was intentionally under-concerned with my process so it would have mistakes (and how to remedy them).

Time to take the Dremel Tool to grind out some imperfections.  The grinding bit sends small bits of plastic everywhere, so it is imperative to wear eye, ear and mouth protection.

The grinding bit is one of the few things I use in my Dremel Tool other than my carving bit.

In late 2012, I had the idea to turn the 'Waffle-Head Dudes' into 'Waffle-Head Grenade Dudes'.  Unfortunately, the pieces were already cast, and were therefore missing the release lever and the pin.  The easiest way to fix this problem was to use some air dry clay to make the levers and attach them to the plastic waffle heads with adhesive caulk.

So I spent 10 bucks on a box of air dry clay, spread out a plastic garbage bag and made some levers.  (Note the 'Vintage' Hi-C Ecto Cooler can that I still keep my clay tools from beginning ceramics class with Russ Schmaljohn.)

Each head gets a lever which I press on top in order to help it form fit.

The actual clay work only took about 10 minutes -which is not nearly satisfying enough for a clay junkie.  I then loosely covered the levers with a second garbage bag and let the newly-formed levers dry very slowly.  They run a high risk of cracking/falling apart if they dry too quickly or unevenly.

After the levers were dry, I used a healthy glob of adhesive caulk to attach them to the plastic figures.

Unfired clay is not nearly as strong as fired clay, so each of these has to be handled with care.  Their sole purpose is to be used for a photograph, if it were anything else, I would construct them differently (since it is only a matter of time before I accidentally break the levers).

Glamour shot before being painted.

Time to add spray paint.

The 'Waffle-Head Grenade Dudes' are now ready for an upcoming photo shoot.  More on that when it happens.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Building a Better Tomorrow

As things are developing, it turns out that buildings and signs are going to be an essential part of an installation that will be part of Merican-Tastic! II: The Son of Tastic!  Even though the show isn't until August, it is not too early to begin constructing the buildings.  If I were to make two buildings per week between now and the show, I will barely have enough by showtime.  The gallery at Quad City Arts is fairly large and if the installation portion of the show doesn't challenge the space, it will come across as a timid apology.

So it's time to make some buildings.

The shells of the buildings are easy enough to make.  They are just sections of cardboard boxes that I cut to the desired size, duct tape together, and use an X-ACTO knife to cut out the window holes.  My studio is located above two restaurants, so new cardboard boxes (art materials) are delivered daily.

Then I cut out a sheet of cardboard that is large enough to cover all of the window opening from the inside on a single side of the 'building'.  I cover one side of the cardboard sheet with fabric (either scrap canvas or some other fabric).

In the past I would make a fabric-wrapped piece of cardboard for each window opening.  Not only was this time-consuming, but it radically increased the chances of getting burned by hot glue.  10 individual window panels = 10 chances to accidentally squeeze out molten Armageddon on my fingers vs. one large window panel = 1 chance to cauterize my flesh.  As an added bonus, when I fill the buildings with spray foam, the single sheet of fabric-wrapped cardboard creates substantially fewer opportunities for the foam to push its way out.

I lay down hot glue circling all of the window openings to insure a good adhesive bond (and to form a seal that protects against spray foam leaks).

I carefully press the cardboard into place.

POW! After 10 minutes of fiddling around, I have sealed off window openings on one side of the building.  I follow this up by using canvas/fabric to hold the edges of the building into shape.  It actually takes longer to reseal the edges/cracks of the building than it does to seal off the windows.

I use a small bead of adhesive caulk around the edges of the windows to further protect against spray foam leaks and to clean up the exposed corrugated edges of the cardboard.

Then I use I Popsicle stick (I think they are technically called 'craft sticks') to smooth out the edges, push the caulk into the corrugation, and scrape away the excess caulk around the edges.

Several years ago I filled a box with small ceramic bricks that I cut out from scrap slabs of clay and bisque fired.  The time has come to once again call them into service.

Covering the entire exterior would be counter productive.  By applying small passages of bricks in selected areas, the bricks suggest a brick exterior, but don't actually make one.  It is a physical/3-dimensional way to do what comic books do so nicely when they want to create a shorthand for a brick wall.

One side completed before priming.  Note on the side nearest my palm you can see the corrugation of the cardboard  in several windows that have yet to be 'edged' with caulk.

I'm starting to amass enough buildings to get a sense of how things might look for the completed piece.

I want to get at least one, if not two, layers of paint on the buildings before I fill them with spray foam.  I had a little bit of brown left over in a paint can and once it was gone I started using an obnoxious orange color.

The buildings will get a more thorough surface treatment once I have them foamed and the bases sealed up.

Here is the start of filling the inside of a building with spray foam.  I usually put the last little bit from each can into a building so I don't waste the foam.  It may take 5-6 cans worth of 'scrap' to fill one building.

In addition to making buildings, I am also going to need to make signs.

The process is similar to making a flight stairs.  I need a front, a back, and spacers.  Instead of individual treads like I would have for stairs, I have long rectangular strips which follow the contours of the sign.

Edging the sign with strips of denim from a pair of jeans that just wasn't up to the challenge.

Once the spacer is edged with denim, it's time to cover the sides with scrap canvas.  I don't mind using small scraps of canvas and having several seams.  Once it has a few layers of paint (and some Spackle) the seams will contribute to a nice surface texture.

After I have applied two coats of paint (to firm up the structure and to insure that I have sealed up as many holes as possible), it is time to add the spray foam.  Typically one can of foam can be used inside multiple structures, so I find it is best to have several ready so I can deplete the contents of the spray foam can in one use.  Spray foam typically comes with just one spray nozzle, and once that one is plugged, you have to steal a nozzle from another can (whose contents you must also use up otherwise you have a can with no nozzle (a vicious cycle, really).

Any proper metropolis needs a multitude of arrow/signs pointing at things.

Some more signs in progress.

All said and done, I think I will need roughly 40-50 buildings and around 30 signs.  I have a long (but fun) road ahead of me between now and August.

Seeing this arrow gives me an idea......