sanding fiberglass sculptures

it’s raining outside for the moment, so i’m in here writing down all the things i was thinking while i was outside.  i’ve got one of my dolphins in my kid’s kitchen for safekeeping, but the other one is on a palette in the alley until it gets sanded and patched and reprimed.

i’m thinking of them as mine now.  they were made by cowpainters, and they’re the property of the aquarium until the sponsors pay them, and at no time are they actually mine, just in my possession.  but never mind that.  they’re mine in a way nobody else gets.  the people who made it don’t know it as well as i do.  i know every pore, every fold, every crack in the thing.  while the aquarium has caught the dolphins, and the sponsors get to mount them on their walls, i get to cut them up and saute them in butter.

horrifying, i know.  eating flipper.  but since he’s a fiberglass dolphin, he’s not real.  but he is.  he’s slightly off balance, with one side tensed and the other jaunty, like he was turning in the middle of a jump.  he’s got a friendly smile on him (so did the turtles, and turtle mouths are actually rather vicious looking), but that’s because he’s a popular (disneyfied) turtle, not like one of those that molest people close to shore.

if i hadn’t watched my dad making fiberglass planes when i was a kid, i would criticize the hell out of the state the model is in.  why, it needs sanding and patching, tut tut it doesn’t come out of a box ready to paint.  i’ve never made a fiberglass figure, but i can see this was made in molds and seamed together.  the seams show.  i groused plenty the first time i did the turtles, and then i realized what superb shape the fiberglass sculptures were actually in, and that i was just being spoiled.  i don’t know how fiberglass sculptures are made, but i know you start with a mold or a form and then you layer fiberglass strips and resin onto it until you have a paper mache type of construction.  i assume that’s how they’re doing it.  then they’re sticking the cured parts together with more fiberglass and resin, and then they’re sanding and priming the whole thing.  they’ve already gone to a whole lot of trouble to get me my naked, blank dolphin.  all i have to do is sand and patch and reprime.  that’s the normal next step in doing this, and they’ve saved me all the work of actually building the thing.

so all i have to do is sand, patch and prime.  i’ve got it outside, and tho it’s cold and showery, i’m just coming inside when it starts raining and going back outside when it dries off a little.  it’s going to take several days to sand and patch and prime it.

the holes are little priming holes, little circles that were air bubbles, little indentations and hills where the first sanding skipped over some places, irregularities around the seams, like little tread marks.  and because i had a little accident picking it up at the aquarium it’s a little cracked along the seam above one of the flippers, and has a little impact cracking nearby where it bounced after hitting the cement.  not a problem, fiberglass is a cinch to fix with more fiberglass.

the crack along the seam, above the shoulder and below the neck

the impact crack nearby. i’m not going to show the edge of the flipper that got whacked off

i’m looking at the base of my dolphin.  it’s got crude waves breaking around the fins.  i can make them without too much trouble into cartoonish water pumps.  or i can spend a lot of epoxy building them into something resembling a real water pump.

can you see machinery?

what about the skin?  should i make a rubbery surface (how, underneath polyurethane varnish?) and should i paint him blue and gray or skin toned?  these are interesting questions.  i’m trying to pass them upwards.

some artists are content to start right in painting without prepping, without sanding off all the rough spots, without getting to know their dolphin as well as the actual sculptor of the model.  it’s a privilege to be out there with the original sculptor standing at my shoulder, pointing out this feature and that flaw.

it takes a very long time to sand a 5-foot sculpture smooth, and never mind the great huge humps of the waves around the base.  i think of it as a zen thing that lasts forever in a moment.

what am i going to do with these forms?


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