refining the drawing

it’s being a very chaotic life going on around my dolphin project.  one crisis after another, like trying to remain standing in 5-foot waves.  and it’s up in the mid-90s f every day.  we don’t use the air conditioning at our house – by choice – and so it’s a process of acclimatization to the season.  so far everybody’s doing well except our houseguest, who has gone out and bought a window unit.  it’s an old house, built back when air conditioning wasn’t, and it’s designed to have the doors and windows open and the fans on, and a damp cloth and misting bottle by the bed.  perfectly comfortable, even if it gets to 96 inside some summer days.  96 in the house is a bit much, i’ll admit.  that’s when old people walk around naked and keep full bathtubs of cold water to dip into.  but never mind that image.

i’ve been working on my dolphin all weekend.  i got a bad headache late last week – pulled something in my neck, and was plagued with nausea and migraine all day – so i stayed in bed.  and all those other crises.  anyway, this is documentation of my weekend’s progress, so it’s going to be rather a lot.  stay with me.

the first thing i did in assembling the hat was to provide a support underneath it.  the hat was at this stage about an eighth of an inch thick, and pretty fragile in my opinion.  i sanded the edges over and over again, fitting it on the head and then taking it off and sanding it some more.  and when it finally fit i took it off and put it aside.

for the support, i decided on one of the earlier possibilities for a hat, the bottom of an old mayonnaise jar, the large industrial size.  it’s 4″ in diameter, and looked dorky on the dolphin’s big head.  but it would do quite well for a support, especially after i put a pier of two-part epoxy putty inside, between the top of the head and the plastic cap.  and forgot to take a picture of it until i had the bead of putty going around the seal so never mind.

then i fitted the hat over the plastic cap.  i let everything dry first on the cap; hours of doing other things waiting for the putty to fully set up.  because i was fixing to seal it in, and wasn’t at all sure if i’d mess things up sealing not quite dry putty inside more putty with air in the middle.  it’s a learning curve.  that F drawn into the cap in pencil means front.  it made a difference to how much i had to sand off the sides.  you can see the rest of the putty folded up and laid across the dolphin’s n nose.  it’s stiff, but settles slightly in a lump.  i don’t have to keep working it, it’s got a long work time.  but i did use up most of the rest of my putty on this part, so that’s rather a large lump of putty sitting on his nose.

i rolled a bead of putty and laid it around the base of the hat.  then taking a half a glass of water, i kept dipping my finger or thumb, depending, and smoothing the bead in until it didn’t lump up over the head and didn’t make the hat spread at the bottom.  this part wasn’t so very important, as i was about to add another layer of putty over the entire surface of the hat.

i don’t have a picture of rolling out the putty; you can see that if you look back in the blog because i did plenty of it with the other two dolphins.  besides, i forgot to take a picture.  but i used plaster powder to flour the surface, rolled it out with the edge of a bottle, measured and cut it with the side of a metal ruler, then dunked it in water to remove the plaster, and carefully applied the cut sheet around the side of the hat, smoothing it and raising it toward the top edge as it went around.  with extra water to smooth my thumb, i coaxed the putty to the top edge and a little over.  then i went around and got rid of the many air bubbles, usually by rubbing upwards with plenty of water.

for the top of the hat, i tried several times to roll out the approximate size and shape of the oval, but misjudged it every time, so finally i rolled it out on top of the hat itself, and that worked fine.  i still dunked it, because i could lift it off.  if i can, then it needs to be sealed.

loads of water, loads of my whole four fingers rubbing quickly over the surface to smooth out bumps and inprints and join lines.  it was like buffing but with lots of water.

a word about gloves.  this putty is as bad as any epoxy, which is not very good.  so i use gloves to mix it up, because mixing it up requires smooshing over and over again, like kneading bread, and it’d get all in your fingernails and stuck to the back of your hand and everywhere.  and even dunking it and laying it out and patting it in i use gloves.

but when it comes time to smooth everything out so that i won’t need to sand it, gloves just leave wrinkles and imprints, and so they have to come off.  just don’t let the shit dry on your hands, and wash thoroughly with a scrub brush when you’re finished.  the issue is developing a sensitivity to epoxy, which is possible thru exposure, if you’re susceptible.  and you don’t know that until you become sensitive to it.  catch-22.  thus the gloves.

but nothing beats bare fingers; sorry.

once the hat was done and needed to cure, i turned my attention to the legs, because i had an idea.  if i turned him just right to the light, i could trace the shadow of his side, so i did that, and then i decided to put the shelves along this line, rather than trying to make them straight up and down (i was having enough trouble with straight lines on his head).  i like the effect a whole lot.

that’s one more thing i couldn’t have designed into it, but could only discover while i was in the middle of it.  that’s why i love doing these projects so much.  i can have such fun.

drawing the top continued to be a frustration in progress.  not the work itself, but how slowly it was going.  this was friday, when i’d had the dolphin almost a week and hadn’t started the real painting yet.  hell, i was still working up the drawing.

look at the lines of the leftmost window.  they’re not remotely like the lines over the eye.  the whole thing tilts up to the left, and the horizontals don’t work with each other.  like a bad perspective drawing, which i am capable of.

and the real challenge in this drawing is the beak.  mapping the door onto his jaw means an entirely different scale.  it all has to look good for straight on, for those photo ops with the dolphin.  but once you get away from straight on you get into immediate trouble.  the column next to the door and the column next to the eye window diverge at a very awkward set of angles, and there’s no resolution on the top of his beak – things just go wandering off.

so i ended up spending several days on the drawing.  you can see here that it’s nicely cleaned up.  i’ve got everything inked in using .5 felt tip pens, which kept running out.  in fact, i ended up with three different kinds of felt tips to do this drawing, which indicates that i’m going to have to make final lines.  and cover these preliminary lines up.

i’ve been struggling with that.  i’ve got the head painted buff titanium, one coat, which is streaky of course.  i’ve deliberately made the paint very weak, and sometimes regret that, but there are going to be many coats of paint on this architectural rendering.  do i paint over all the odd  pencil lines and the pen lines, and then start over restating the lines i want?  or do i painstakingly paint between the lines.

of course, i’ve been struggling with this all my life.

this is my first take on the front door.  the scale of it pays no attention to the windows over the eyes.  the arches are all at the same level, but you can’t tell it from here.  because i didn’t draw it that way.  i just put the arch up there where i figured the arch should go.  i’m going to spend a lot of time adjusting the curve of that arch, because right now it’s looking too fat near the top.  and the horizontals all bow.

at this point i have the head of carnegie (whatever symbolic head they referred to) just rounded in, and don’t know where to put the nameplate that goes above each arch.  this one says carnegie, and so it’s kind of important.  but at this point i am looking at putting it along the upper lips.

now for something completely different.  as artists, we have stashes of various items we call props, or studio supplies, or junk on shelves.  in this case, a bunch of shells in a glass jar in the bathroom.  so i thought, the hell with painted epaulets, let’s do the real thing.  plastic.

this is my first rubber mold, and my first plastic cast.  i followed the instructions, which were to build a dam around the full height of the shell, which meant getting out the plastelene and making a round box to put the shell in, just higher and bigger than the shell(s), which i stuck in the middle of the clay.  then i mixed up 1 part a and 1 part b of the ‘rubber’ in a plastic cup until it became mostly uniform purple (the back one is more blue), and poured it in the plastelene and shell container, and left it to set up.  after lunch, i peeled it off the shell, turned it upside down, and mixed up 1 part a and 1 part b of the plastic (another two-part epoxy), poured it in clear, and watched with interest as it turned white slowly and heated up a whole lot.

i let it sit all night, and next day sanded the edges, and then took a mat knife and scored it as much as i could, being very careful to not cut myself even tho i was holding it in my palm.  the right one is still smooth from casting.

i mixed up a little more apoxie sculpt and rolled it out, pressing the shell into it to cut it.  then wet, and on the shell, and then the whole thing pressed to the dolphin – as it turns out, nowhere near where i’d penciled them in.  then i went around with more putty and filled the gaps, because the shell is flat, and the dolphin’s flipper is not.  after i’d smoothed everything, i cut away all the excess, and took an edge and continued the fluting thru the putty.  it looks great.  another inspiration.

okay, you can’t see the pen work, but there are the epaulets.  they’ll be brass, as will the butons.  the drawing on the head is complete in this shot.  i’ve gone around with a medium sized brush and painted buff titanium on the columns and big spaces, and with a small brush and got in between most of the lines.  an attempt to erase pencil and earlier pen lines.  not that successful.

the next step is to marble it the way the original marble was marbled.  it’ll be subtle, and will probably just be several shades of the basically same color.

here’s the closeup of the front as it looks at the moment.  i did it with the least useful of the felt tips.  now the arch mostly matches, and the carnegie sign is inside his mouth, but from directly in front of him it looks good.  at least, the lines look straight.  sort of.  i’m noticing that the horizontals now bow in the opposite direction from before.  hmmm.

anyway, i’m going to bed now, at 1:30 in the morning.  with interruptions, i spent all weekend on it. and still have a long way to go.  it might not be finished by two weeks exactly, but i’ve made good progress.  the next real challenge comes in drawing the books.

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