Pouring Slip Clay into The Pear

Michelangelo loved to sketch; as is evident by the copious amounts of drawings he left behind.  Modelling on the other hand, whether in wax or clay, was more of a necessity than a passion.  Though many of his surviving terracotta maquettes show a skill and flair that rivals his marble, the master believed that the process of ‘adding’ clay material, required less skill than the purity of ‘taking away’ stone.  The hatched line sketching technique he had perfected was similar to carving in its unforgiving quick and permanent strokes.       Ink, like stone shared a confident certainty that Michelangelo admired.

michelagelo figure sketch

Still, he was a great creator of clay models, statuettes that survive as examples for us today.  Not just as functional maquettes, tools to aid in blocking marble, but as works of art, as permanent as stone.  And this is why I love to draw in clay.  There is a beauty in its fluid nature.  Just imagine if the Master had chosen to sketch in clay rather than charcoal or quill…  how many more masterpieces would we have to share?  Of the two methods of dimensional sketching, the drawing provides the greatest economy of persevering ideas.  An artist can sketch out dozens of designs in less time than it would take to complete a single maquette.  Michelangelo would continue to return to both his sketches and models time and time again as he advanced from one project to the next.  The Sistine Chapel, and the Medici Tomb build upon his earlier studies.   Inspiration captured in ink or terracotta is realized through fresco or marble.

michelagelo dusk sistine

And so it is with my work, though much more humbling and much less masterly.   My  Adam & Eve, The Pear has been cast in plaster and is now ready to be poured in clay. The proof is in the pudding… my jigsaw jenga puzzle is now dry and ready to be assembled.  Adam & Eve Randall Bezeau Cast aAs there are so many sections, and these must all pull away from each other in oddly opposing angles, it is impossible to build keys within the forms.. (normally key structures  – male and female – prevent slipping or sliding) due to the irregular design, I will have to assemble each piece while ensuring the internal edges are aligned…

There is little structural integrity or stability until the mould is completely assembled, siliconed and then duct taped….  Once this is done, I can tip the unit on its side and give it a push into the tipping box.

Once inside, and secured from wobbling, the whole box can be teetered 90 degrees and locked upright.  Plasticine is used to form a dam and aids in preventing spills and waste when it’s time to pour the slip out.  ( it would surprise you how much liquid is sucked into the plaster, the slip that is poured in will be absorbed dropping the level down several inches, the Dam allows for extra slip to rest above the mould, ensuring clay doesn’t dip below the top –  clear as mud?)

Once the clay has begun to set to the consistency of a chocolate brownie the inner sections can be removed and the assembly is ready to be righted.  This time will vary depending on the size and thickness of clay, but expect between 6 and 12 hours.

Open one section at a time, clean and repair as you go.  Take your time.  If you try to remove the plaster too quickly, the clay will be too damp.  The whole project could collapse and fold into itself, or simply tear away.  If you need more time, extra days, spray with a little water and wrap with cellophane.

Adam & Eve Randall Bezeau Cast oBy thoughtfully removing each section, you can move around the statue, relying on the remaining plaster to hold up the weight.  As needed, add extra support with cut out high density foam.  As you go, use a paint brush to wet polish the clay.. this is the most gentle form of smoothing.  Adam & Eve THE PEAR Randall Bezeau Randy copyIf at all possible Do Not pick up and handle greenware; it is Very VERY fragile.  So, hold off with attempting to finish sanding or adding refining details.  I have chosen to send this project to the kiln, and bisque fire.  This gives it enough strength to withstand the file and drill. Trust me on this one… a three legged statue is supper breakable… Cooking will add weeks to the timeline, what with ensuring the statue is bone dry, but better to wait then suffer the consequences of impatience.

Now that The Pear is low fired, it is strong enough to finish, but that will have to be saved for another day… It’s the end of April and temperatures have warmed up outside.  It’s time to get my marble on…  open up the summer studio and get back to stone.

Michelangelo, working with the Chisel and Rasp

I have a special place in my heart for Michelangelo’s unfinished works… most abundantly found in the collection of statues partially carved for Pope Julius II Tomb. The series of six Slaves, to varying degrees, show step by step the masters creative thought, his planning and execution.

From the Awakening Slave still trapped within it’s megalith, through to the perfection of the completed Dying Slave, we see the unison of a singular method. Michelangelo’s gift from God, his representation of perfection within the human form. Classical Realism.

Michelangelo six slaves

Of these, Atlas is the finest example of Michelangelo’s method.  His effective use of available stone.  Blocking techniques used to anchor his modelled concept within the mass.  As seen in the partial carving of the face and initial rough cutting of the elbow.  This then is followed by the rounding of the stone; again evident in the comparative elbow and mid arm.  This was done with the point, toothed then rounded chisel, with the rasp smoothing out the surface.

Michelangelo Atlas work in progress

Its no wonder how many of his contemporaries and today’s art historians fall under the spell of Michelangelo’s ‘il terrible’ and consider his work as ‘non finito’. The master’s overpowering skill and creative flow lend even unfinished work the air of completion. Continue reading

Michelangelo and the Bow Drill

The Bow truly is the innovation that subdued our species. Transformed us from wild wonderers to social builders. The Bow pre-dates agriculture, and is more significant than the development of the written word. Could our societies exist today without the invention of the Bow?

Did Michelangelo understand the power of this tool to bend this world to his vision? To shape history as David shaped the Hebrew nation?

Within an afterthought, the briefest of prose, he writes:

Davicte cholla Fromba e io collarcho, Michelagniolo
David with his sling, I with the bow, Michelangelo

Michelangelo David with his sling and I with the bow

David with his sling, I with the bow….  With this simple tool, Michelangelo transformed metamorphic rock Epochs old, into a cultural statement that defined his time and continues today to reflect our humanity… Within David’s eyes is revealed the strength, the confidence that we all have to chose our own path.

Michelagelo David

Michelangelo had a personal connection to the Bow. Specifically, the Bow Drill, a tool that he used with such precision as to render completely natural the flowing contours of fabric and locks of curly hair. Continue reading

Renaissance Realism

With my Pieta Amare fired to a bisque I can once again focus my attention to the marble Pieta Spero. April is a cool month here in Atlantic Canada, and with nights still dipping well below freezing and daytime temperatures just inching above zero, all I can do is prepare my stone work site and wait for warmer days just around the corner.

Having several statues on the go at the same time ensures that, regardless of the seasonal temperature, I’m always busy advancing my art, switching from one project to another.   The trick is to not get lost in the creative process, and never actually get around to finishing any of the work. Currently I have four statues on the go…. The Pieta Spero, and Pieta Amare, The Pear, and Bruisin

All are, to varying degrees, along the road to completion.

This is the difficulty with the creative mind… it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the creative process.  There are so many designs that I would like to do, but am trapped within this temporal egg timer.

Not enough hours in the day, not enough days or months; why are there only four seasons in a year, and so few years and just one life.

Michelangelo pined that if he could have more lifetimes to dedicate, he would carve a colossus from the cliffs of Carrara.

Time is scarce, and this is why many artist prefer not to finish… or ‘Non Finito’;  an artistic style that Curators and Critics applaud, and was credited to Michelangelo as its originator. What better way to witness the creative process than to trace the chisel marks or suppose what truths are trapped behind the un-carved stone.

In truth, the master had too many great ideas, too many commissions on the go, and was far too optimistic on how much he could actually complete. Pope Julius ll Tomb, was originally intended to have forty full figured statues, more than any one sculptor could complete in a lifetime. In fact most of Michelangelo’s statues were left Non Finito.

Michelangelo never intended to advance this unfinished style. When he had the time, he carved and polished to perfection. Consider; Vatican Pieta, David, Madonna of Bruges, and Moses. Also consider his monumentous achievement, The vault of the Sistine Chapel and The Last Judgement. His greatest works were all masters of completion. His Non Finito Style was simply a result of not being able to turn down a hefty commission.

In modern times, the non realistic statue is the norm; cubism, geometric abstraction, natural stone, rough, unpolished. All these expressions have the aesthetic value of balancing the visual with the emotional… but this was not the Renaissance way. As this period progressed from Michelangelo, to Giambologna, then transitioning with Bernini, the intent was always to compel emotion through captured realism.

Michelangelo Giambologna Bernini

Unfortunately, the Achilles heel to this Renaissance style is time. And this form of art is very time-consuming, and as such, very expensive.

As much as anything, the move away from realism to geometric modernism was a product of necessity. Non Finito is less expensive.

Pour or Press Clay into Plaster Mold

Pope Julius llAs I have previously mentioned, Michelangelo would normally not have pressed or poured clay into prepared plaster molds. Though he did have experience working with bronze and the making of casts, he preferred to simply jump from the maquette stage directly to carving marble. With the master’s near bottomless supply of financial support… literally buckets of ducats, he could afford to live well on the florins shovelled out by Florence. Papal Scudos, Parman Neapolitan Piastras. (sounds yummy)

But in today’s world, the working artist needs to be self supportive. And having an inventory of “clay originals” for sale will help you during the long years ahead wile you lovingly labour on stone. Continue reading