Overcome.

“Overcome” in Little Rock, Arkansas

“Overcome” installed in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“We are not afraid, we are not afraid. We are not afraid today. Deep in my heart I do believe. We shall overcome someday.”

On September 25th, 1957, nine brave schoolchildren walked into Central High School and became symbols for a nation. They symbolized the righteous striving for equality and justice that continues to this day. I have chosen to refer symbolically to this event in my sculpture “Overcome” to honor both these students and what they represent to us all as a society and a culture. Nine shapes begin, caged by a lattice of injustice and segregation. They rise up and come together, and, leaning upon their collective strength, break their bonds to soar free. Each form is an arrow pointing skyward in continued aspiration for the greater good and an indication that more is yet to be done. 

Here’s some shots of the installation:

Below are some more photos from the fabrication process.

What’s Happening Now?

I’m currently working on my largest and most complex design to date: “Overcome” for Little Rock, Arkansas. Below is a rendering of the 3d design in Solidworks.

“Overcome”

And here is a gallery of my progress over the last few weeks:

Update.

A few of the things I’ve been up to since my last posty.

The Rotary Wheel is installed in the Rotary Plaza in Little Rock.

And so is the Mockingbird Shade at the Children’s Hospital in the same city.

“Mockingbird Shade”

WaterMusic is brightening up Jen and Scott’s beautiful new home!

Split Infinitive, re-worked.

I designed this piece way back when Sketch-Up was my main software for modeling. I was pretty happy with the way it turned out, but over the course of its fabrication the first time around, I discovered a pile of things that could have been done better to yield a smoother and less laborious process. Chief among the changes was making the thing symmetrical vertically, which enabled me to eliminate two entire butt joints in the sheet metal, which means significantly less grinding – which means a much happier Humble Narrator. I used my original Sketch-Up model, importing it into Rhino so I could have a starting place for the geometry:

Mesh edges from Sketch-Up.

After a whole bunch of mucking about and snapping new construction curves to that stuff, I was able to get a cleaner version that had the added benefits of being easier to fab AND better aesthetics.

Fixed up in Rhino – and natively on my Mac in the Rhino Beta for OSX.

From there, I used Rhino’s Unroll command and some patience to arrive at a 2d pattern, ready to send off to the laser for cutting out of stainless steel.

Unrolled surfaces of the 3d model, colored for identification.

The Gallery below shows some of the initial stages of the assembly. I made a gumby little wooden jig to bend the tight inside curves; the outside curves bend against the “sides”, so don’t need to be pre-rolled.

I LOVED the piece with just the sanded metal surface, but this one is actually sold, and the client wanted a yellow powder coat. Yellow? :– {

Turns out, yellow is SPECTACULAR on this thing. The first image above shows the piece fresh from the powder coater, followed by some shots of the edges being filed back to reveal the shiny stainless underneath. I love the way this iteration came out. Hopefully my clients feel the same – shipped it off a while ago and wondering what they think.

Dutch angle with Japanese maple. Artsiness.

PS: I posted quite bit about the first iteration. Some linkage:

Here, here, over there, and here, too.

Beginning – from the beginning.

What, two blog posts in a week? Am I feeling OK? Yep – just finally have some time to sit down and update things. Here’s another piece I got done over the summer:

 

I batted around the idea of titling this one “Just After the Big Bang” or “Origin of the Universe” or some such – but I decided to simplify. Nonetheless, to me it represents what the Universe could have looked like just a few Planck Time units after the Big Bang, with a lot of artistic license thrown in for good measure. I started with a simple egg-shaped surface in Rhino, then used the built-in Paneling Tools to array the hexagonal base unit over said surface. LOTS of flailing around and reiterating until I finally got something that would work. One complication of this particular design that normally doesn’t occur in my Rhino work is the thickness of the material – because it incorporates repeating components, the thickness of each one must be allowed for in order for the pieces to properly form the correct final shape. This is one area that Rhino struggles in, as it employs surfaces that are zero-thickness rather than solids with volume like real-world sheet metal. I imported the surfaces into Solidworks and added the appropiate thickness, but then had to pull them back into Rhino to produce the correct patterns for the laser cutter – Solidworks is just too rigid to allow my crazy shapes to be modeled with its sheet metal tools. Go figure. Anyway, this is what I ended up with, pared down to a quarter of the whole form:

 

As you can see, each strip (color coded for clarity) is just slightly different from its neighbor, necessitating careful labeling in order to keep it all straight. It also takes someone who can handle simple arithmetic, like how many quarters it takes to make a whole – which I goofed on and had to order the other half after the fact. Oops. 2 X .25 is NOT 1. Below is the unrolled strips – half of them, anyway.

 

Evident on these strips are the bend lines, with mountain and valley folds color coded cyan and magenta. Keeping that sorted in my head was a source of continual stress. I ended up modifying a drill press vice to simplify bending the strips. The basic procedure can be seen below:

 

Once I had all the strips bent into these goofy accordian-like shapes, I was able to clamp them together and get a pretty decent tack with the TiG welder to glom them together. This was by far the most labor-intensive sculpture I’ve made so far.

 

 

As the strips went on, they gradually forced themselves into the desired egg-shape. I did have to tweak and clamp and swear and complain to compensate for small erors that grew larger over time, but it actually formed up pretty well.

 

This one was a real learning experience, forcing me to come up with all kinds of new techniques and procedures to get the job done. In other words, I loved it.

The frame you see in the top picture above is just for displaying “Beginning”; I envision this as a hanging piece in an atrium, stairwell, or foyer. The same techniques I empoyed here could be used on a much larger scale. I’d love to give it a whirl.

 

Wellspring: creation, Part II.

The sculpture sat, unloved, in the studio for quite a while as we sorted out a good install date. Eventually, it was time to load it up, haul it to Adams County, and install it. Getting it onto the trailer seemed to be a fearful task to a lot of my cohorts, but it ended up being a matter of a simple plan, well executed. I bought some heavy-duty casters (600 lb. load rating) and bolted them onto the exposed “legs” of the superstructure. This simplified the act of moving it into place on the trailer’s deck, and it also made lifting the piece into a vertical orientation with the crane much easier. Next, I picked the base end up high enough to allow the trailer to roll underneath, and supported it that position with a crossmember of leftover square tubing and two of my super-badass “saw” horses.

 

Backed the trailer under the piece, removed the crossmember, picked up the top end, and rolled the sculpture to the fromt of the trailer. Wah. La. All that was left was strapping it down, slapping some hazard flags on it, and loading up the tools for the install the next day.

 

My little Tacoma did a fine job of hauling this rig, despite the weight – “Wellspring” tips the scales at just 850 pounds, but the trailer is a beefy one at around 3K. (Thanks go to fellow Guild member and all-around good guy Denny Haskew for the use of his trailer.) An hour and a half later, and National Sculptors’ Guild honcho John Kinkade and I were on site, getting ready and waiting for our crane. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful crane, and a beautiful installation – we were done in less than an hour.

 

 

So, there you have it. Done.

 

 

Wellspring: creation.

After (finally) dedicating “Wellspring” last week, I thought it was high time to post a wrap-up of how it came into being. I leveraged Rhino’s formidable toolset to model the entire thing in 3d on my computer.

 

Rhino includes some really powerful tools for “unrolling developable surfaces” – flattening out the curvy bits so they can be cut from sheet stock. I usually try to color code the parts so my simple mind has an easier time figuring out what goes where, which can become problematic when you’re dealing with over two hundred pieces like I was here. I also model the footing and whatever anchoring hardware are called for by the engineer. This way I can at least pretend I’ve planned for any possible issues that might pop up regarding clearances and installation logistics, plus it makes accounting for a bill of materials a lot more accurate.

 

Once I’ve got that all squared away, I export a file of the pattern in a format that the cutting job shop can use to drive their cutting machine – in this case, a water jet.

 

I also modeled the internal superstructure of 3″ stainless steel square tubing. Again, doing so insures that it fits properly within the base’s envelope, plus it allows me to produce most of the sketches needed by the engineer directly from the 3d information.

 

Once the modeling, unrolling, and pattern making are done, I get to sit around nervously while the parts are all cut out. Any mistakes can be costly at this point, and I did manage to skip a couple pieces on this one. Sorting and identifying all the parts can be daunting and confusing, especially if many of them are just slightly different from one another. I should probably implement a better part labeling system at some point, dontcha think?

 

 

Now it’s time for the real work to begin. I started with the 12 gauge parts of the base. One of the difficulties presented by working with stainless is temporarily holding the pieces in place in order to tack them together with the welder – 300 series stainless (this is 304) is non-magnetic, so the usual magnetic clamps are useless and mechanical ones have to suffice. They often don’t, requiring some fancy gymnastics, some Rube-Goldbergian jigs, or a combination of the two.

 

The surface of all that stainless also needs to have a nice handmade swirl applied. Below is the top of the base, which is 1/4 inch plate.

 

Here is the superstructure being welded up, and then with the 1/4 inch top included:

 

 

I then welded the aforementioned 12 gauge base sheets to the superstructure. Somehow, I’ve neglected to get a picture of the finished base before attaching it to the rest of the piece. Oops. With the base done, I moved on to the “frame” part of the sculpture, which is the outline of Adams County itself. I came to regret including all those jogs – which, BTW, is the part of the county that got chopped out to make Denver International Airport.

 

 

Next came the grass blades. I always like working on the curved parts, as they magically form themselves into the correct shape as you draw the edges together. Not so magical is the tranformation of the raw welded seams into nice clean corners. HOURS of grinding and honing, all by hand, all by yours truly. Weeeeeee.

 

After each blade is finished, it is added to the frame. The design is such that the grass blades act as stiffeners and reinforcements, adding lateral inegrity to the structure. In the pics below you can also see I’m test-fitting the mounting system for the acryllic circles – which represent an aerial view of center-point irrigation.

 

 

After attaching all three blades and welding up all the connections that were easily accessed from the top side, I needed to flip the whole thing over so I could do the same on the other side.

 

With all the welding and chasing (foundry ratspeak for grinding) done on the main upper portion of the sculpture, it’s time to attach the base. This was by far the most technically challenging aspect of the fabrication, as the alignment of the frame to the base determines the attitude and verticality of the whole works. PLUS, the base outweighs the rest by 2-to-1, throwing the center of gravity way off from its previous location and making rigging and picking the thing much more complicated. PLUS the welded connection between the two is structurally critical. Lining it all up:

 

Once the alignment is good and the top side welded, I needed to flip it again to access the base/frame connection on the other side:

 

And then weld that up:

 

With the welding, grinding, and swirling completed, I needed to attach the acryllic circles. I’d fretted a bit about managing this without scratching the material, but it ended up taking about an hour to finish up.

 

At this point, the fabrication is finished. Ta. Da.

 

 

On Her Way

We loaded up the mermaid and sent her on her way to Norfolk – complete with TV coverage.
Mermaid on Camera 2
Mermaid in Flight 1
Mermaid - On Deck

Metal Mermaid

OK, the mermaid is pretty much done – I have a couple more hours of texturing and touching-up, but I’ve got all day tomorrow. We put her on a truck for Norfolk on Tuesday. Here are a few shots showing the assembly process. (Descriptions are UNDER each pic.)
Mermaid Fabrication
The flat pieces, cut according to the pattern I posted earlier. Cut with a laser from 14 gauge stainless steel.

Mermaid Fabrication (4)
Beginning the process of sorting out who goes where – these are parts of the tail fin. You can see the leading and trailing edges up front and the side faces in the background. I use the neighboring pieces as bending guides; as the edges are drawn together, it forces the planar sheets to curve into the proper shape.

Mermaid Fabrication (6)
The tail tacked together.

Mermaid Fabrication (8)
Her hair being assembled. You can see some of the printed out guides from Rhino that I use to keep myself somewhat less confused.

Mermaid Fabrication (11)
The face was, ahem, a real bitch to get to fit properly. I should have broken that center strip up into at least 3 parts – this would have saved about 3 hours of bending and tweaking due to the tight curves in opposite directions lying right next to each other. I printed out a profile section at 1:1 scale from Rhino to use as a guide. Do you get the idea that I love that program?

Mermaid Fabrication (14)
Parts being finish welded.

Mermaid Fabrication (17)
One arm is assembled and chased, with another underway. This is about when I remembered fully just how hard 304 stainless really is. There is carbon in there, and it precipitates into the Heat Affected Zone around and in each weld – making it just that much harder right where you need to grind. Weee.

Mermaid Fabrication (19)
The other arm roughly finished and the start of the main portion of the tail.

Mermaid Fabrication (21)
Attaching the face to the hair – with both mostly chased out. This was the last of the small parts to get done before moving on to assembling the tail/body and hooking them all together.

Mermaid Fabrication (24)
Mermaid Fabrication (30)
Putting the structural member in. I designed the structure keeping in mind two factors: the fountain construction docs called for a 6″ sleeve to receive the sculpture, and aesthetics. I used 5″ standard pipe to slide down into that 6″ sleeve, plus the thick pipe looks less like a lollypop. Structural engineers in Norfolk analyzed my design and found it adequate without any changes to account for all the forces in play on the piece – that means I done goodz.

Mermaid Fabrication (32)
Torso panels going on.

Mermaid Fabrication (39)
Attaching the first arm – I was able to spin the pipe on the table in order to work on both left and right halves. My back thanks me. At this point, the size of this thing in comparison to the garage is becoming really evident.

Mermaid - Upright
John Kinkade of the Guild and Mike Allison helped me stand her upright. I built a shipping stand for her so she can ride upright on the truck out to Norfolk – I like to avoid having the piece in contact with the flatbed when possible to minimize the risk of denting the (relatively) thin sheet metal. I also prefer not to attempt to cover the sculptures – the coverings tend to do more harm than good.

Mermaid Fabrication (45)
Yours truly doing some final chasing on the parts I couldn’t get at in the garageshopstudio.

Mermaid Fabrication (48)
Got a sunrise shot of her the next day. Basically done but for some final texturing and nitpicking.

This was a huge project for me – not in terms of size, but time. Start to finish in just about a month is pretty much unheard of. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. 10 hour days for 30 straight days will do it, I guess. That and lots of beer and the support of a really awesome woman.

And some great friends.

And a good portion of too stupid to know better.

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.

More SolidWorks designs.

SkatePark_Entry 04
Entryway for a skateboard park with walls for donor plaques.
Mokingbird Awning-shadow
Stainless steel “awning” designed to emphasize the cast shadow.

Meme is finished.

Meme - Finished - 03
Jafe Parsons got some preliminary shots to me this weekend of the finished “Meme” sculpture. Really, really pleased with this one. I think it is my best work to date – if that statement actually means anything. I oftentimes feel that my latest effort is my best; it takes a bit of time and perspective to get a true sense of how a single work fits into an oeuvre. Yet this does feel like a less tentative, bolder statement of form that is derived intrinsically and exclusively from my current process – the computer as primary tool for sculptural expression.