Bizzy. Backsun.

I’ve been out in the shop (studio? – either way, it’s just the freaking garage) bending and welding sheets of stainless steel into the shape of a mermaid – for 18 straight days.

Why the hell would you want to do that, Mark?

The City of Norfolk, Virginia contacted the Guild looking to have their iconic mermaid logo sculpted into three dimensions. Ren put together a package of potential artists, and, long story short, they chose me. The single greatest criterion for this choice was most likely the simple fact that the fabrication method I use permits a much faster design-to-finished-sculpture time frame. Ya see, Norfolk first contacted us at the tail end of April – with an unveiling date of July 2nd. That pretty much rules out anything cast – and should rule out any kind of sculpture at all, unless crazy people happen to be involved – ooh, look at the grouse!

I spent a couple weeks in May coming up with two designs for them to choose from, both based on their original logo.
Mermaid Outline
The first idea was simpler from a fabrication standpoint. It consisted of a series of plates bolted together.
Mermaid - first design
This concept was nixed – probably a bit too industrial. I loved it, most likely because I’d be done with it already.
Time was so tight Ren put her considerable drafting skills to work on the second design while I doofused around in Solidworks on the first one. Here’s what she came up with:
Mermaid - Main View
Hmmm. Who’s the artist on this project?
Showing perfectly sensible good taste, the City chose Ren’s design.
(Time for dinner. More later.)

So, now it’s time to figure out HOW to make it. I struggled for just long enough to realize that Solidworks is just not the right tool for such a task. Nor would any of the other tools in my toolbox be fast and accurate enough (in my hands at least) to build the complex surfaces needed for the mermaid. FormZ? I’d have thrown my computer out the window after half an hour. I realized that an old friend was going to be required – hey Rhino, how ya doin’? Before I lost my marbles and abandoned the Windows world for a Mac, Rhino was the program that first enabled me to make the switch from carving stone to computer sculpting. I was amazed at how it all came back to me – I was able to jump right back in almost as if the last 5 years hadn’t intervened.

Nonetheless, I was still too inept to just start building developable surfaces that looked like the mermaid in Rhino. I needed something to start from – so I modeled the rough form in Modo.
Mermaid in Modo
It was pretty easy to flesh out the shape I wanted – that sort of work is the bread and butter of polygonal modelers like Modo. Plus, it exports formats that Rhino has no problems translating. Here’s the mesh out of Modo with the beginnings of surfaces (the tail) that will eventually be the sheet metal of the mermaid.
Mermaid - Mesh to NURBS in Rhino1
Some more progress:
Mermaid - Mesh to NURBS in Rhino2
And the finished model:
Mermaid 4-View
From here, it’s time to unroll all those surfaces so that they can be used as a pattern to drive the laser cutter. My Rhino rustiness let me make a few problematic surfaces – they were curved in two directions, which is pretty damn hard to persuade 14 gauge stainless steel sheet to do. Happily, Rhino also includes tools to compensate for this – actually, Rhino seems to be one of those programs that allows you to do pretty much anything you can think of; the tools are there if you just dig deep enough.
Anyway here’s what the unfolded parts look like:
Mermaid Paths
And here’s the final design, all gussied up for its trip to Italy:
Mermaid Render - Front
(No, it’s not REALLY Italy – just a cheesy computer render)
I’ll post more when I get some time.

2 Replies to “Bizzy. Backsun.”

  1. Thanks! I'll be posting some pictures of the actual fabrication when I get some time. To answer your question: in the US, we call it "elbow grease" – that is, lots of hard work with grinders and grinding disks of different roughness. Stay tuned and you'll see what I'm talking about.

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