fixing mckfinney 4-5

it’s several weeks since i finished fixing my dolphin, but i’m only now getting around to completing the documentation because i’ve got another project hot on its heels and want to get to it. thus the housekeeping.

i will miss the folks at mckenney’s.  they’re such a microcosm, such a fun bunch of engineers and their support teams.  engineers are a special bunch, and i really enjoyed talking to the ones who noticed me sitting on the floor in the lunchroom.

altho i’d removed most of the yellowed acrylic topcoat from the hat, i had to be extra special careful around the logo, because i wasn’t sure how it had originally been applied.  i got the hat from mckenney’s, and don’t know what went into the logo – was it a sticker, was it silkscreened, was it somehow baked into the plastic? who can tell without research?  so while i still used the same flat-bladed scraper, i was much more gingerly around the lettering, and only scraped it in tiny places that won’t be noticed.  the picture shows the before condition.  i’m not showing you the scratches.

when i was last there, i worked up some putty in the shape of the handles that some kids wrenched off the sculpture when it was sitting out in the main waiting area in front of the aquarium, where millions of kids tried to break it.  which for sure i would have done if i were still a kid.  i would have tried my damnedest to twist off some part of anything i found in public.  it was my job as a kid.  hell, i still go around and twist things to see if they’re loose.  anyway, i made replacement handles out of epoxy putty last time, and stuck them on top of the putty container and left them, which is why the color and lettering on the one on the right.  so this time i peeled them off and mixed up a smaller lump of putty, on the bottom left, to glue them on with.  i took the picture of the fresh putty while i was still mixing it.  you can see bands of lighter and darker gray.  it wouldn’t harden right if i left it like that, in case you’re interested.

here i’ve stuck half of the resulting lump of mixed putty on top of the built-up surface, which is the gray knob underneath the lump.  i built the knob up a few sessions ago, and now i’m gluing the replacement handle on with this new lump of putty.

you can see the new handle in place, still light gray, between the dark gray pump on the left and the dark gray piping on the right.

and here is the replacement handle, along with the knob and the lump, painted the same cadmium red as all the other handles and turnscrews and connector thingies..

next step was to paint everything.  like the old navy rule.  so i mixed up a dark gray out of black and white (duh, tho there are many ways to mix a gray), and went around to all the midsized pipes and hit them with gray. later i came back in and hit all the bumps and scrapes of the base with the same gray, to be covered over when i touched up the waves.  there were a lot of damaged bits, where the sculpture had been slung around by movers or whanged by kids.

the larger pipes had already been painted with an even darker gray.  the clamps were painted a lighter gray that i also used on the dolphin’s skin.

lots of pipes.  what looks like white – the smallest pipes – are painted silver, and really show up in natural light.  same for the flange bolts in the black flanges, and all the screws and fittings.

the mid gray went all over the dolphin’s skin.  this is a flipper.  there’s also his tail, and the back of his neck.  i came in with the lighter gray that went under his mouth, and painted the front of the fin lighter than the back.  it seems i was a little sloppy with the edges, riding the gray up over the shirt’s blue, but i would have come back in with blue later to correct it.  or not.  closeup there are no hard edges.

when i started on the repair, i found they’d stuck a pair of safety glasses on my dolphin.  i’d already considered and rejected this idea, because there was no way to firmly secure the glasses; the stems were too flimsy.  so i didn’t do it.  and it was the right choice, because they would have been ripped right off while they were on public display.  but in the confines of mckenney’s dining room, i think it’s safe to do, so first i tried liquid nails, but the glue didn’t want to stick, so i peeled it off and mixed up a little putty, and built it up around the earpiece and the indentation around the nose.  that was last time;  this time i painted it gray.

you’ll notice the coloring around the eye and along the bottom of the chin.  it’s way lighter than the coloring on the back of the dolphin, so they look sky-colored when seen from below and depths-colored when seen from above.  and there’s just no easy way to match that when repairing him.  so i had to repaint the skin on my dolphin.  i did this with a makeup sponge.  pat pat pat pat.  you can see how uneven it looks at first.

but as i continued to pat color on, it got thicker and less splotchy, and finally looked okay closeup, and just fine at a distance.

then it was time to paint the rest of him.  because of the yellowed acrylic topcoat (which so should have been covered by a professional auto topcoat), all the colors were gross and disgusting.  faded, yellowed, just yucky.  so i had to repaint the whole thing before i was satisfied.  but it wasn’t as much work as it sounded, because all i really needed to do was to glaze the existing colors with thin coats of stronger color, just to cover the gray.  the two boxes are all my acrylics.  i didn’t use hot sauce or pepper, and that’s my coffee and cheese toast in the background.  in the cup to the left are the various blues of the shirt – cerulean and pthalo and ultramarine and a little black.  the pigments are all transparent, especially when thin, and i simply brushed on a thin coat, brushed it out, and left it to dry.

see nice blue now.

see nice thin coat of raw umber and yellow ochre with white.

see nice cerulean skimmers

and the lovely prussian blue waves.  all these are thin coats of glaze color, unifying the forms and hiding the flaws.

and here he is, all repaired.  every little piece of him has been gone over, repainted, rebuilt.

even his badge and his phone and the georgia tech pin have been repinted, with very tiny brushes and a steady hand.

i just love this dolphin.  i have a clipping from their newsletter that shows him set up at a job fair, so i guess they’re using him as a mascot.  there’s nothing more gratifying than to see something you’ve really put some time into being appreciated and loved.

thanks, mckenney’s for letting me be involved with your family in such a special way.

fixing mcfinney 3

first let me apologize for the shaky photos.  it was quite dim in the place and i’m not a patient photographer.

the putty had the weekend to set up, and i went back in on tuesday to begin painting.  since most of the repair was on the small pipes that were originally silver, i put down black first, as a base under the silver.  it shows up better that way.

if you’ll notice the white blob in the extreme foreground, on top of the orange and blue buildout, that white blob is a cap of putty over a broken-off turn handle.  that’s the first step in rebuilding it.  on tuesday i mixed up some more putty for the actual handle, but stuck in on the putty container to set because it would have flopped over had i tried to build it onto the cap while wet.

below is another view of the repaired part.  it’s at this  point that i’m starting to look around at the crappy quality of the paint on the pipes, which has yellowed and whitened due to the acrylic topcoat not being protected from the weather like it should have, were it coated with auto-grade polyurethane the way it should have been.  you can see the whitening on the shoe surface.  acrylic isn’t a good final topcoat for anything left out in the rain, because it deteriorates quickly in the sun and water.  it still bothers me, so i continue to bitch about it.  and it’s prompting me to repaint the entire sculpture, which was not in the original repair request.  but it bothers me.

below, i have decided to go around and repaint all the flanges a solid black.

below, this means getting right up against the wall to paint the stuff that goes around to the back.

which required a bit of smooshing against the wall.  the picture below shows the black flanges, and also the dark gray large pipes, which i have gone around painting while the black flanges dried.

below is a continuation of the dark gray, which i also used for the small pipes attached to the blue pumps.

i’ll be going back tomorrow to continue painting, and will get the silver on, attach the handles, and repaint the rest of the pipes in lighter grays.  then i’ll have to tackle the waves and the body and clothes of the dolphin.  which will take some time.  but i can never see something i’ve done without wanting to go in and make several improvements.

so i’m having tons of fun visiting mckenney’s a couple of times a week.  it’s very quiet in the deli, where mcfinney stands, it’s way after lunch when i go in.  people come in for snacks from the vending machines, but they usually don’t even see me.  it’d be okay if some of them wanted to stop and talk, but they’re working, and keeping their noses to the grindstone like good employees.

fixing mcfinney 2

i was back at mckenney’s for another couple of hours today.  this time i took off all the plastic i was holding the glued bits on with until the glue set and dried.  it didn’t fix the right hand side as well as i would have liked, so i have to make up the difference with the epoxy putty. this shot shows 5 places that need building out with putty.

and this shows the putty once it was put on.  this is two-part epoxy, which i used gloves to mix up a quarter-sized lump of parts A and B, and then applied a little bit here and there, and smooshed it all flat with my gloved fingers.  then i dipped my fingers into water and smoothed the putty out.  it’s not entirely flat, but as you can see with the silver bits, there’s not much in the way of flat and smooth.  i wasn’t going for the absolutely machine-made look anyway, i wanted the pipes to look hand done.  which is just as well, because i couldn’t have been more precise without a great deal of trouble.  i had to get to the smoothing with water part pretty quickly, because the putty only has a short working time when you put it on this thin.  this took about 45 minutes.

next came the helmet.  it took over an hour to scrape it.  i had put a couple of coats of acrylic medium on it as required by the people who made up the rules in preparing these sculptures.  the whole statue was supposed to have gotten a final urethane topcoat like you find on cars, but for some reason this didn’t happen, and so the topcoat of acrylic we all put on the dolphins yellowed and started cracking in the sun.  since the topcoat never went on, i felt it would be better to remove the acrylic topcoat from the helmet, which is made of hard plastic and doesn’t need protection.  i had thought that if it was going to get a final topcoat then it might as well have the same surface as everything else.

this is what it looks like with most of the acrylic scraped off.  there’s only a little left on the rim at the bottom of the picture.  you can see acrylic flakes all over the place.  they should be clear, but the sun has yellowed and aged them, and actually changed the color of the entire dolphin.  this shouldn’t have happened if it had been coated with a urethane uv coating like what was recommended by the designers.  but oh well.  took me awhile to clean it all up so the cleaning staff doesn’t have to do extra work.

the georgia tech engineer’s pin that i put on was not a real pin, but a printed-out image of a pin, with a layer of rolled-flat putty underneath it.  unfortunately the inks seem to be not at all lightfast, and everything but the black faded.  so i started in with cadmium yellow light, and will go over it with a glaze of cadmium yellow dark, and then add some flesh color.

the next time i go in, next week, i will be able to start painting.  how much i need to paint is something i will have to decide.  the sun, as i said, has already damaged the paint, but unless i want to completely repaint it i’m going to have to be satisfied with it.

at least the folks at mckenney’s will be putting a topcoat on it themselves after i’m done fixing it.  they’re engineers; engineers do it with precision.

fixing mcfinney

i have the good fortune to have been asked to fix some damage to one of the dolphin i did for the georgia aquarium last year.  it seems some kids got a little rambunctious and tried to dismantle my sculpture, for which they can’t be blamed, because if i were a kid and was allowed to get close enough to something like this, i would try to wrench something off, just to see how well it was fastened on.

in better days

more credit to the putty and glue i used than anything else, the pieces were not wrenched completely off, just broken and bent.  so i won’t actually have to dismantle anything much, which is good, because a redo of any real kind would mean a complete redo, and that wouldn’t be worth it.  i might as well start over.  but this sculpture wasn’t damaged nearly beyond repair.

a word, because i did this a year ago, and there’s no way you would have read those posts because you’re just here looking up something odd and happened to chance finding it here.  backpage and try another result, and thanks for stopping by.

this was a project i was commissioned to do for the georgia aquarium’s fundraiser and community-builder, dolphins on parade.  this is part of a nationwide public-art effort which you’ve probably seen in your city at some point.  large fiberglass sculptures of something – a cow, a mermaid, a baseball, a bear, a dolphin.  various organizations select whatever they feel like out of a very wide range of choices, or they commission their own animal.  then the fundraising organization puts out a call for artists and we submit samples and ideas, and participating sponsors select these, and contact us with their ideas.  then we pick up a blank fiberglass sculpture, do our thing, and return it for its final professional topcoat before being put on display and then auctioned off or sold to the commissioning sponsors.  it’s a winning idea for everybody, and the public loves it.

unfortunately, the first time i went out to begin repairing my dolphin, the lads were just packing him to go off and decorate a jobfair.  you can see him in the front of the truck, wrapped in plastic, his white hardhat visible.  so i came back the next week, which was today.  and visited with friends for a few moments, and then got to work.

i’d noticed this damage when i first saw him, still on display at the aquarium and in full contact with a million kids a day.  i’m not sure what it is, maybe bubble gum?  maybe some sort of paper slapped on after it rained.  maybe some damage they tried to repair while it was still at the aquarium.  i don’t know.  but it scraped right off with a fingernail, and didn’t leave too much of a scar.  i’ll still have to spend time touching it up.

this is the part that was damaged the most.  it’s the pump.  this is the bit that i got as a gift from the folks in the life support systems department at the aquarium:  their own special sculpture for a halloween pumpkin carving contest.  which means i had no idea what exactly they made it out of, which means i can’t exactly replace it.  especially the missing handle, to the right, where that black bit sticks up out of the gray and orange ring.  i’m going to have to build one out of putty.  and attach it.

i had to peel the green ring off the metal washer that they used to make the impeller part of the pump.

here’s where i mixed up a bit of epoxy putty and stuck it on over the metal washers.  i had to do this on both sides.

and this is the part that had to be completely rebuilt.  what you’re looking at is the end result with bits of plastic bag tied around the joints to stabilize it while the glue dries.  where you see the actual pvc is where i had to chip off the putty coating, which i thought was going to work really well, and would have, if it hasn’t been kicked and jumped on and climbed on and kicked by 20,000 kids.

you can see that it’s a complicated run of pipes, rising off the spindle in the center, taking a 90-degree turn and arching up and over and down and then running on to make another connection, and in all there are four separate pipe bits that have to be glued back together.

they’re setting now, and when i go back to them i’ll have to use putty to build a surface around them, further gluing them together and making the structure stable.  everything’s gong to have to be repainted.

one of the things i didn’t do when i was making mcfinney is to give him glasses.  i didn’t know how to make them look right.  but after mckenney’s took possession of him and could be assured nobody would rip them off his head, they found an extra-large set of safety glasses and fit them on, and it looked so nice that i decided to glue them on.  it’s going to be a precarious job, because there are only four contact points, but if nobody tries to take them off they should stay on okay.  unless they bundle him too tight in plastic wrap when they take him out to a trade show.

i went around with a bit of putty and filled in the worst of the gouges at the base.  being the base, it wasn’t ever finished too well, not from the fiberglass shop and not in my hands.  so there are uneven edges all around the base.  but these were big chunks missing out of the side, with fiberglass strands showing and everything.  after going over the patches with a wet finger, they felt  nice and smooth, and they’ll paint over and you’ll never be able to see them.

i plan to go back on friday of this week, and several time next week, to finish him.  so i left a sign on his roll of plans, and i hope some of the folks who work there will be interested in the process.

newspaper article

oooh, i’m in the paper.  in a good way.  the pictures from the article vanished, so i put my own snaps in.

Lifestyle 11:57 a.m. Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By Melissa Ruggieri

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

They weigh 45 pounds naked.

Georgia Aquarium Homer the Home Depot dolphin was designed by local artist Jeanne Morrison as part of the Georgia Aquarium Dolphins on Parade.

Georgia Aquarium Seen here is a dolphin designed by local artist Jeanne Morrison for Georgia Aquarium’s ‘Dolphins on Parade’. This one is for McKenney contractors.

Ten of them are hanging around the Pemberton Place courtyard, outside of Georgia Aquarium, while another six, the more fragile ones, greet visitors inside the aquatic venue.

Still more – 47 in all – are scattered throughout the city, in Midtown and downtown, Buckhead and Grant Park.

Some sport mirrored tiles and painted lipstick. Others, a workman’s apron or zebra stripes. And then there’s the one with a swoop of ginger hair, sitting behind a desk like his real-life counterpart on a late-night TBS talk show. He’ll chill at the aquarium until it’s time to possibly take a trip to the West Coast to visit his human doppelganger named Conan.

What are these funky fiberglass figures?

They’re the Dolphins on Parade, a public art project commissioned by Georgia Aquarium as a tie-in to its Dolphin Tales show and exhibit, which opened this spring.

The program percolated in May 2010 with a call-out to local artists interested in participating. Of the 70 who submitted designs, 50 were chosen and matched with sponsors who purchased the dolphins. The artists received a stipend for their work.

Companies that want to own their dolphin paid $6,500, while those spotlighting them only through fall, when the program ends, paid $3,500. Those dolphin statues will be auctioned off at the aquarium’s annual Aqua Vino event in October, including an Atlanta Falcons fin-ster who is wearing a jersey and bears the signatures of every team player and coach, as well as owner Arthur Blank.

Proceeds benefit the aquarium’s sponsored admissions programs.

Kristie Cobb Hacke, vice president of sponsorship and development at Georgia Aquarium, said the idea for Dolphins on Parade originated with a board member when the aquarium first opened in 2005.

“At the time, we knew we couldn’t pull it off because of the construction, but we decided when the aquarium opened that the next big thing we did, we wanted to tie in with something to engage the community. Dolphins are the thing that people ask for again and again, so what a perfect fit,” she said.

One of the participating artists, Jeanne Morrison, worked on three dolphins: Homer, stationed at Home Depot on Ponce De Leon; another located at the Courtyard Marriott downtown; and one for McKenney’s Mechanical Contractors, the company that provided HVAC and Life Support System controls at the aquarium.

Of the trio, the Marriott statuette proved the most challenging to decorate because the hotel, which is housed in the Carnegie Building, also wanted the fiberglass fish to represent the Carnegie Library.

“Tracing the old library onto his head was so difficult. I even tried using calculus on it,” Morrison said.

Though the primary purpose of Dolphins on Parade is for it to exist as public art, the aquarium is also injecting some social media-based fun into the project.

A section on the aquarium website ( encourages people to participate in FourSquare, Twitter and Facebook by “checking in” at a Dolphin on Parade point, posting photos and tags on Facebook and tweeting to the aquarium’s Twitter handle with the hashtag #dolphinsonparade.

Every week, one winner will be selected for an aquarium prize pack.

Also, dolphin scavenger hunters can check Facebook and Twitter for clues on the whereabouts of four dolphins not plotted on the website map. Find one, take a photo, submit via one of the aforementioned social media methods and also possibly win an aquarium prize.

“Because Atlanta played such a big role in creating the aquarium, we wanted to do something where people can be involved,” Hacke said. “Public art inspires people in a different way than just coming into the aquarium.”

presenting the marriott courtyard dolphin


it’s taken me a couple of days to write all this up, but the dolphin was delivered after the stormclouds passed on monday afternoon.  as always, i had great help and wonderful conversations with the people at the aquarium, and enjoyed avoiding the crows and going wandering in the back halls instead.  smells like fish.  my dolphin is going for that polyurethane topcoat and a cement base this week, and then it’s going to be delivered to the hotel for an extended stay, i suppose by the beginning of next week.

before putting it in the truck and delivering it to the aquarium loading dock, i took my finished dolphin out into the front yard and photographed it in the hazy sunlight.  i was surprised at how many details i could see in the bright light that were completely invisible in my studio.  i won’t mention them here because practically nobody will ever notice them, but i will look for them if i come across my dolphin again.

presenting the marriott courtyard / carnegie library dolphin.  it’s to be installed in the elevator lobby, and this is how it’ll be seen when the elevator doors open.

this is how it’ll look from the front desk.

nobody will ever see it from this angle.

you’ll be able to see this in the mirror at the end of the elevator lobby.

and now for some details.

you might not be able to read the titles, and only the black titles are at all clear, but it still looks like books.

some you might even recognize.

here’s my little joke.  on the front cover of the book that’s being pulled out of the bookshelf – his tail fin – there’s a picture of the carnegie library, and also a tiny figure of a dolphin in a bellhop’s jacket walking up the street.  i love slipping this kind of thing in.  about 1/16″ high.

here’s a view nobody will see, because it’s above eye level.  those distortions really are something, aren’t they?  maybe i should have darkened the inside of his mouth, but then i would have had to deal with what to do about his tongue.  dolphins have tongues, right?  they’re pink.  and teeth.  there’s an architectural detail called a dentil (right below the red of the roof), but it would be out of place inside his mouth.   and a black tongue, what’s that about?  symbols – the mind boggles.

here’s another much underviewed angle – the back.  i had to do different things at each top and bottom on all of these columns, all around the dolphin’s head.  there were lots of places that looked okay when i first drew them in, but then looked funny until i changed them. it was all done by eye in the end, because measurements changed every time i went a few inches, either up and down or around the head.  a demand for absolute accuracy here would have driven me mad.

now we get to the most important angle on the dolphin’s head.  the eyes.  that’s what keyed the whole ‘mapping the building onto the head’ idea, was the roundness of the windows and the arch of an eyebrow.   once i added the bellhop cap, the whole thing was a no-brainer.    a building, duh.

you might notice a gleam in his eyes.  at the very end of the process i decided i wanted to set the eyes off somehow.  i could have made them blacker than the black of the windows (which is really a dark grey), but i decided to put iridescence into it.  i recently came across a bunch of gravel newly laid on a nearby alley.  it’s granite gravel, so there’s quartz and tourmaline and mica in little chunks all up this hill.  anyway, i’ve been collecting really nice shiny specimens of these stones, and decided to scrape off a mess of mica and glue it on to the eyes.  and so i did, using acrylic medium.  i dipped the flat of a brush into acrylic medium, then touched it to a pile of mica, and then brushed it onto the eyeball.  and when it was dry, i did it again, little tiny flakes of mica.  bigger than the commercial product, but real mica anyway.  when two layers of mica and medium had dried, i put a coat of brass iridescent paint (dry pigment and acrylic medium), and then a coat of interference gold on.  so it’s going to shine a little no matter what light, but won’t look that off from black – just shinier.

the problem, of course, was what to do with that hugely protruding snout.  it made a mess of the lines of the columns, played havoc with how bent a line had to be to look straight, and made the placement of the figurehead obvious, but also made the carnegie label laughable.  inside his mouth, what a thought.  is the dolphin eating the library?  or just the front entrance?  symbols.

anyway, because the distortion worked, it all looks fine, and nobody’s going to be hunting for abstract reasoning behind why i put what where.

the kind people working at the marriott courtyard made up this great employee badge for me to stick on.  it’s the real thing, and makes it all official.

the really tricky part was the base.  the look was supposed to be of strewn pages, loosed from some old book and fallen in a big pile all around his feet.  originally the idea had been for the bellhop to be toting someone’s bag that spilled all these pages out as it opened unexpectedly.  but that would have required a whole lot of work i didn’t have time for.  so the idea evolved into pages loose on the water, being carried about by the waves.  and for that i had to mold them to the waves.  and for that i needed to lose the paper and reduce the bulk to a layer of ink.

and i did that using an image transfer technique i found on the internet.  and it worked brilliantly.  you can read the pages, if you can hack the distortion.  because they stretched and molded beautifully, only giving me a little trouble coming up around odd bends and hollows.  on some of these closeups you can see a whitish area around crinkles and in dips.  this is gel medium that hasn’t yet cured, even after several days.

the selection of pages took me some time, and reveal the history of the carnegie library, a glimpse of society a century and more ago, and a general view of atlanta as a small city.  i avoided mentioning most of the troubles that have grown up with the town, because we don’t need political statements in these troubled times unless i agree with them, and the sentiments i would have concentrated on if left to my own sensibilities would have offended practically everyone else.

my favorite part of the things i stuck to the base were the ads.  there are ads for coal stoves, patent medicine, and several great travel ads for companies that were long ago eaten up by what we know as usair and csx.

finally, i’d like to say a few words about the marriott label i used at the base.  the manager kindly asked the people in corporate to forward me a logo that i could enlarge and apply.  having worked in a corporate print shop for years, i know what kind of result this request usually gets me.  it gets a tiny thumbnail logo that becomes so pixilated at extreme magnification that i have to throw it away and paint the damned thing on myself.  and i don’t like to do this, because my paintings are never exact, and always show my particular way of seeing and representing things.

what i got from corporate, however, was as if i’d called up there and talked the the girls in the department myself (sorry if it’s guys in the art department that i’m actually referring to).  i got a file showing all the logo files and giving all the rules for how they’re to be used.  and i got an .eps file of the image, something that could be vectorized to the dimensions i needed and look wonderful and smooth-edged.

i’m making such a big deal about this because mostly printing is an artform that everyone thinks they understand because they have a printer attached to their computer.  but it’s so much more.  and corporate printing standards are no joke, either, because they’re a whole nother, political layer on a complex mechanical process already made infinitely more complex by having a computer interface.

so to get not only a good logo but the spec sheet for using the logo was a real blessing.

and to show my pleasure and gratitude for this wonderful response, i took out my gold paint and carefully added a layer of gold to the four colors originally that printed out of my printer.  and the reason i did this was because the spec sheet called for five colors.  and there are only four printer colors – yellow, magenta, cyan, and black.  so a fifth color meant spot gold.  so i whipped out my smallest paintbrush and spotted in gold on the trees and the border of the cartouche.  whee.

just a little extra bit to express my warm feelings toward this particular dolphin.  i have to say that i had so much fun doing this dolphin, i can’t tell you.  after being done with my other two dolphins, to suddenly get one more dropped into my lap was a real surprise, and a real pleasure.  i love doing this kind of work.  it’s so different from my regular work, which nobody wants to see, and it’s a real chance to reach out and touch an audience with as much warm humor as i can express.

so, thanks, scot, for giving me this opportunity, and enjoy your dolphin, and thanks, celeste, for making my contribution possible.

dolphin wrap up

it’s all over but the delivery.  all i did today were a couple of scribbles on the back of the book / fin, and another coat of varnish.  i’ll post pictures tomorrow when i take it out into the sunshine and load it up on my truck to deliver to the aquarium for auto-quality clearcoat polyurethane.  and then it goes to the boutique marriott right across the street from the atlanta library, in the historic carnegie building.  you should stay there sometime; it’s near everything, and will have this cool tourist attraction all its own in the lobby.

i did learn some lessons from doing the prior two dolphins, which i finished over the winter.  these two dolphins took four months to complete, and were ornate, built-out works of art.  this dolphin took one month, and was as simple as i could make it.

that’s lesson one.  make it simple.  streamline it.  strip it down to the bare metaphors you’re working with and put those on with a minimum of detail.

there’s some sort of inverse-square rule about how much detail at how many feet viewing distance.  i know that the resolution on billboards is ridiculously low – 42 dots per inch – when photo quality is 300 dpi, and that’s  because you’re looking at it from a hundred yards and more, and when you look at a photo, it’s usually in your hand.  screen resolution is only 72 dpi, and that’s plenty for looking at pictures on the internet, which your screen is about 18 inches away from you.  anyway.  in the case of public art, less tends to be more.  too much and it’s fiddly.  too little and it’s an ad.  so there’s a balance.

did i mention that i worked at the marriott?  it was back in 1979, and it was at the flagship twin bridges hotel in dc, and i worked in the kitchen.  they had their eye on me for management, because they kept moving me around, starting me in cold prep, and then grill prep, and then grill, and then employee lunchroom, and then hot side, and i was being included in cook training sessions.  i could have had a career there, had i stuck to it.

but i can say that about everything i’ve ever done.  i could be a recognized expert in astrology if i’d only written that book.  et cetera.

what i have done is art.  and that has led to obscurity, and that’s fine with me because i’m just hanging out here making art.  of many kinds.  and since living is an art, i include that too.

lesson two is that i know what i’m doing.  i may not know that i know it, but i’ve been studying art materials and methods for, let’s just count.  since 1982, and that’s going on thirty years hahahahahaaaha.  boy it’s gone quick.  i’m constantly floundering while i’m working on a project, constantly wondering if i’ve just taken a step that will completely ruin what i’m doing.  but for the most part, i end up doing the right thing, and it looks better than i’d planned, and i’m pretty pleased.  except for the projects that fail entirely, and oh well.

just as in sudoku.  sometimes i get almost to the end of the puzzle, when suddenly there are two 9s in a box, or none.  and there’s no point in going any further trying to figure it out, and there’s no point in retracing my steps, because i can’t, and there’s nothing to do but draw a line thru it and go on to the next puzzle.

which is lesson three.  keep moving.  take the whole painting to a consistent level of finish.  don’t work on one section until it’s finished and then move on to another section and work on it until it’s finished.  except that i certainly did that with the marriott dolphin.

i did it the way i’m recommending for the mckenney‘s dolphin and the home depot dolphin, however.  i made sure to build them up evenly.

the reason you want to do this is because you’re never sure when it’s going to be enough.  if you keep it evenly developed, then you can look at it and say okay, just this and this and we’re finished.  you can do that a lot, and eventually you will be finished.

but the way i did it this time, i was sure what i wanted in every section.  i had separate references for four sections of the marriott dolphin.  i had very good reference photos for the library building, i was able to use a few quick strokes to establish the bland acreage of the red bellhop‘s jacket, and it was a natural thing to paint in most of the building in one concentrated piece of work.  i didn’t finish it, but i brought it up to good enough, and then moved to the books.

i had specific references for the books – too many as it turned out, and a very narrow range of books was represented in the end.  only atlanta history and the library history, only books you’d find in the original atlanta library that old people remember going to as youngsters.  except for the list of popular novels, some of which were just published a few years ago.  but they’re likely to be the only ones people will recognize, and that’s funny because they’re the only books that don’t remotely look like what i’ve painted.  the library books are faithful reproductions, words and all (not necessarily legible), and the novels are just written in over a very distorted paint job (distorted because it’s at the place where the legs flatten out into the flippers).

the peduncle flattens out into the flukes.  what i’ve been calling legs is belly.  there are no legs.  but hey, they’ve got belly buttons.

lesson four is not to sweat the small stuff.  don’t try for verisimilitude, don’t stress out on the detail.  less is more, the eye makes the connection really fast and anything more than a quick sketch is too much detail.  which is why i didn’t go for readability on the books.  in general, nothing has to be painstaking.  this is public art, it’s not going to be studied.  it’s going to be seen for a moment, and it has to be broad enough to be understood at a glance.  so he’s a building on top, a bellhop in the middle, and a bookshelf on the bottom.  and even from a distance, even from down the street, he’s going to be a bellhop.

see dolphin?

come to think of it, lesson four might equal lesson one.  oh well.

almost there

almost there.  really.  so close i can taste it.  all it needs is the varnish coat.  and a couple of touches on the book / fin.  and maybe a little it more antiquing on the dolphin’s feet.  there’s also a little confusion over who is going to put the polyurethane topcoat on it, me or the professionals.

but i’ve signed it.  so it’s finished.

maybe i’ll put some iridescent paint over his eye.

yesterday i let the base continue to dry while i finished up the details on the top (little things like putting show on the buttons and going once more around the jacket with cadmium red medium, and touching up the shadows behind the books again, and adding a little line of white to the tops of the books on the bottom shelf, and adding a tiny bit more shading to the steps, and the sidewalk, and on the sides of the columns.  et cetera.  see, i had this dark wash made of raw umber and ultramarine blue, and bunches and bunches of acrylic medium and water,rather a lot of it, so i put a lot of it on in a lot of places, which i don’t remember at this point.  and wherever i put it on, it was almost invisible, but darkened the area just a tiny little smidge more.  very subtle.

like on the waves.  like between the spine of books.  on the books i used a tiny little brush and made it on the dry side.  for the waves, i took a much larger brush and slapped the wash on over a wave or two, then brushed the still-wet paint off the tops of the waves with a paper towel.  and tho it didn’t look like much when i put it on, and while it was still wet, it dries darker, and looks like a big difference now that it’s dried.

i think i will need to go back and darken the spaces on his feet.  they show up too white, too angular.

so i have several things to do, actually.  good thing i’ve got a little more time to think about it.

but doesn’t he just look terrific?  i can’t wait to see him installed.

up all night

i was up all night finishing the dolphin.

except it wasn’t precisely all night.  and i didn’t actually finish the dolphin.

nope, i hit a stopping place.  i’ve got to hang out and watch paint dry for awhile before i can do anything else.

not exactly anything else, because i still have the book / fin to paint in.  and then i have to put some ageing on the base.  but i can’t varnish the damned thing until the acrylic i put on last night finishes drying.

or else.

so okay fine.

that’s why i’m writing this blog entry now, because i can.  because i’m not going to wait until i’m finished in a few minutes and then write it all up at once.  because i won’t be finished in a few minutes.  because i’ve told my sponsor and the aquarium that i’m going to wait until over the weekend to drop it off at the loading dock.

so okay fine.  i’ve had three hours of sleep and i’m going to sit down and start on the lettering on the book / fin in a moment.  but first some more coffee.  i’m still a little shaky.

last blog post, i spent all day washing the paper off the backs of the printed pages.  when i came to the studio after leaving them all night, collected them and started looking at the individual pages, i realized that they still had loads of paper on the backs.  so i washed them all over again.  this time the bits of paper came off much more easily, but i still had to spend three to five minutes per page.  times 32 and half a dozen small pictures besides.  this time i used very little water in the bottom of a plastic tray, and didn’t bother emptying the water out after every page, but let it gray up and cloud with all the paper particles.

turns out i left one or two pages stuck to the fridge overnight, and they glued themselves right onto the surface of the fridge.  the acrylic page came up finally, but not without stretching and tearing, and i had to peel the torn part up with a fingernail and glue it into place later.  there’s a reason why you put them acrylic side down to let the ex-paper side dry and then pull them off and turn them over onto a nonstick surface to let the acrylic dry.

or that was the theory.  i found that it didn’t matter what side i stuck to the mirror after washing the paper off.  as long as i peeled them off the mirror before they dried, it didn’t matter a bit.

when they’d dried on one side, stuck to the mirror, i transferred the pages to the futon couch and laid them down acrylic side up to dry.  you can see white areas in some of the pages.  that’s acrylic that’s still wet.  wet because it’s been in the water.  it’s dried acrylic, meaning it’s not going to change shape or anything, but it’s like de-cured when it’s in this state.  it puffs up and blisters, it’s opaque, it looks creepy.

but all you have to do is let it dry, and it’ll turn into the clear stable plastic we know and love (except for the ammonia smell).

here’s a closeup view of the scene above.  you can see the splotch of white on the lower left.  when they finish drying they’ll be slightly more translucent.  like old-timey fake parchment.

hours later, when everything was dry, i took the pages up and sorted them out.  i had a few pages from several different sources – history of atlanta, history of the library, an article from the library’s website formatted into columns, and a bunch of photos.  i had printed everything out at a certain dpi without thinking about it.  as they came out of the printer i thought how gumby everything looked, and considered reprinting everything slightly smaller.  old books were often 5×7 or smaller, and the pages were tiny in some of them.  surely smaller would be better.

but when it came time to place everything with blue tape, it seemed as if i might have instinctively made them the right size.  cool.

at that point i took a break, had dinner and a dog walk, and got a couple of hours of sleep.  then, when the dog woke me up scratching, i came back to the studio, grabbed my gallon tub of acrylic gel medium, and sat on the floor in front of the base.

i started with the formatted history of the library that i found on the library’s own website.  i’d stuck it into columns in my word processor, put it into an old font (garamond), and then cut the columns up after it was all coated out.  once i made double sure that the columns were in the right order, i started in the upper left of the curl of waves that cascades down the very back of the dolphin’s base.

this is a particularly handsome fall of waves, and it’s too bad it’s in the back because nobody ever sees it.  but it’s where i put a fall of washers when i did the dolphin for home depot.

so i took a length of column and slapped two fingers of gel medium onto the back, smoothed it over the surface, and laid it down starting at the top of the waves.

when the printouts still had paper on them and i fitted them to the waves, they crumpled right up and were ugly and bulky and you couldn’t read them.  but once i had replaced the paper with plastic, the pages became much more flexible.

anchoring the strip at the top, i smoothed and pulled and bunched the strip around the cascading wave, smoothing it up along the rises and crumpling it over the falls.  this takes plenty of gel medium on the fingers, to avoid sticking and pulling.  if you keep it wet, then you can continue to mess with it until you have it exactly the way you want it.  then, when it gets tacky, you stop and  grab another one.

i made sure the text flowed from one column to another, butting the strips together and holding the top down while placing the rest of the strip.  it got a little awkward on the lower right, but the text follows, so it can be read.  there’s only a few places where i had to fold one line over another, and since it’s translucent, it looks a little dark, kind of bluish where there are a couple of lines over each other.  but basically it looks kind of cool.

it took all night.  i started about 11:30, and then it was 5 in the morning.  i glued the last photo on as the birds were starting to make noise.

i was amazed at the stretchiness of the acrylic.  it’s as if it was vacuum packed onto the waves.  i even was able to put the map on without any folding over or wrinkling at all.

later, as things  began to dry, i started seeing bubbles and blisters in the pages.  i suspected it would go down as the acrylic dried, and tried to leave it alone.

i sat around for half an hour this morning, when i was all done, leaning against the edge of the futon couch and turning the dolly this way and that with my foot, regarding the base.  it looked so much different than i had imagined.  it fit the curves of the waves so much tighter than i’d imagined.  it’s such a much cooler effect than i’d expected, and i’m going to be interested to find ways to use it in other aspects of making art.

then to bed, and now, to painting.

paper peeled

this is the last stage.  sort of.  i keep saying that.  because to me, it’s already finished.  here’s a secret.  with every project i do, around the middle of it, i start thinking about my next project.

but really, this is the last bit of unmarked dolphin.  everything else would pass if i didn’t do another thing to it.  but the base of the dolphin is painfully clear, like an empty canvas, like a blank screen.

over the past few days i’ve been printing out pages of old books, mostly on atlanta.  i found them by doing a search on the carnegie library in atlanta, mainly, and then going back on the timeline until i found something old.  of which there’s a lot.

there must have been 30 pages.  yesterday i spent all day putting coats of acrylic gel medium over the type.  three coats, drying clear between coats.  it’s been raining, and it’s damp, and gel medium doesn’t dry well, so i’ve done various things like putting them in the oven for hours, hitting them with the hair drier, and resting them outside on the steps while the sun was out.

once they were dry, i tried spritzing the back with water, and it worked fine, but was messy, and i sprayed water everywhere.  so i got out a plastic tub with a tiny bit of water in it, and stuck a page face down under the water.  after just a moment it was ready to start coming up, and it was fine to forget about it for 20 minutes before starting.  the paper started dissolving immediately, and the acrylic didn’t dissolve at all.  good points.

i did briefly wonder if adding either vinegar (acid) or soap (base) to the water would speed things up any, but it only took a couple few minutes to completely rub the paper free.

here’s the submersion stage, where it’s getting wet.

here’s where i’ve been rubbing at it for a few moments.  there seem to be two layers to the paper, and then a back-of-the-type layerette that’s pretty stuck to the acrylic.  i can feel it, but i can’t rub it off, and if i persist i start to stretch and tear the acrylicked type.

when the area of paper on top of the type is gone, there’s still the rest of the paper.  if i wanted to put the work into it, i could rub off the paper around the acrylic, which extends some way out from the type.  but i’m going to trim it all with scissors later, so i just slap it up on the fridge and let it dry for awhile.  i’m putting it acrylic side down on the fridge.  i think this may be important.

when it’s done drying, but not all the way please god, then i peel it off the fridge or the stove or the mirror and turn them over to let the acrylic side dry.

i let a couple of pages stick to the flat surface too long, and they dried down.  i had to peel up the edge and carefully pull it off.  it’s like removing any kind of tape, you have to pull it flat, against itself, at a 180 degree angle.

so they’re laying on the couch, and over the edge of the clawfoot tub in the bathroom, and tomorrow i’ll come down here, trim them, and then start placing them on the dolphin until i figure out how i’m going to do it.

when i had the pages in the water soaking, rubbing the paper off, i noticed that the brushstrokes that you can barely feel when it’s dry, swelled up and sort of blistered, so i was feeling long bumpy strings of white, which we’ll see if they go down as the acrylic dries back out.  i assume it’ll be drying out.  and that it’ll all be pleasingly flexible tomorrow.  i have some doubts.  one or two of the pages crumpled really bad, like the acrylic took on a different shape, melted like.

we’ll see tomorrow.