‘Adam Kirkham’ is finally ready. The plaster has been rubbed down and patinated. The sculpture has been mounted on a stone base. Submission to the Society of Portrait Sculptors’ FACE2012 exhibition is initially by photographs only. It is only if you get through this stage that you need to cart your sculptures up to London, to be judged by a panel of portrait sculptors. Getting good photos of sculptures is quite an art, with a bit of science thrown in. My excellent one-to-one session with the photographer Jerry Lebens in October 2011 serves me well (http://www.jerrylebens.com/arts-crafts). I set up my living room as my photography studio. Props that serve me well are: a plinth, a black cloth over the door, an adjustable spotlight, tracing paper and a camera tripod. I have just counted – I took over 100 photos before I had three photos I was happy to submit. I still have a lot to learn though about photographing sculpture, but this is a decent start.
I am happy with the finish of Adam’s head. The wash of tea and subsequent sanding-down has left a satisfying finish in terms of colour, and to the touch. Next stage is to mount the sculpture. It’s much more straightforward than mounting Robert’s head. The pose of Adam’s head is straight ahead and the plaster sculpture is relatively light. I check that the studding is at the right angle. Rather than using a vice, we drill a hole in a sculpture stand and insert the studding. I take a few photos but can see that it’s sitting nicely. Again, Andrew has done a good job here.
I have a series of life-size plaster heads on sandstone bases so decide to continue in this vein. I have a spare piece of stone with a hole drilled just where I need it. This is fortunate as I don’t have the equipment to cut through the stone. The studding will be too long for the stone base so Andrew gets out the hack-saw and cuts it down to a good size. I try the head on the base. It isn’t sitting quite right – I mark with a pencil what further plaster needs to be scraped off to even it out. Adam’s head is back in the sink on the beanbag as I ‘riffle’ off the excess plaster. It now sits nicely on the base. I tighten the nut/washer. It’s now ready for its turn on the plinth for photographing.
Well Adam made it home and is nestled on that black bin bag in the sink. His plaster head is pretty clean – very little residual clay. I spend time scrutinising the surface looking for ‘potatoes’ to pick out. These are formed from bubbles in the plaster. There is something very satisfying about picking them out with a sharp metal tool. I am also checking for any holes or cracks in the plaster. In fact there are few holes, but some small indentations I want to rectify. So I fill these with small amounts of fresh plaster before rubbing down. I spot the odd fragment of rubber that is stuck in the crevices of the plaster surface. For these, tweezers do the trick.
I then make sure the plaster is truly wet before I start to sand down with Wet and Dry sandpaper – from the coarsest to the finest grade. A regular rinse or scrub with a toothbrush keeps the surface clean – otherwise it is easy for the plaster shavings from the sanding to clog up the surface. This whole process is very cathartic. It is easy to become completely absorbed, to the point of obsession. I am happy with the surface texture, nice and fine, so move on to the next step.
The cup of tea is made and the surface of Adam’s head is wet. With a soft artist’s paintbrush I apply the tea across the whole surface of the sculpture. This takes back the brightness of the white plaster. And it also stains the nooks and crannies, providing interesting contrast. Time now for the last rubbing down, with the finest sandpaper money can buy. The surface begins to feel like porcelain. My job is done. Except for the clearing up – the sink area is awash with bits of old plaster, escaped polystyrene beans, tea bags and tools. But Adam is looking happy. Okay – perhaps still a bit sullen.
The next stage commences. Trundled over to Partridge Green last night to pick up Adam Kirkham’s portrait. Now cast in plaster, it takes on a different feel compared to the brown clay. The plaster is still damp. The surface is dull and matt. Being life-size, working on it will be rather easier than Robert Newton’s over life-size portrait. But room only for one in the kitchen sink. So need to oust Robert’s head so can make a start on cleaning-up Adam’s plaster head. Will be looking for any small holes or any superficial cracking that needs filling. I am already thinking of how I will mount the portrait. I have checked that the metal threaded pole (or ‘studding’) is at the right angle. I also know that the bottom of the sculpture needs to be sanded down so the portrait will sit properly on any plinth. And importantly, been to buy more metal nuts to fit the studding and extra supplies of Wet and Dry sand paper. The magic begins.
Photos track my progress on Adam Kirkham’s portrait sculpture – from the making of the armature (or support) to the final tweaks in the clay. In readiness for the Society of Portrait Sculptors’ Masterclass I had to make a very specific armature. This is a more complex support structure than I would normally use. It consists of a wooden ‘bust-peg’ with a metal structure made from aluminium armature wire. Must admit it took a while to make but the tutor – Etienne Millner, the President of the Society – was rather impressed with my effort. I got a few strange looks on the train and a few questions from the curious. Our model was Adam Kirkham – a London-based contemporary dancer. Ten of us spent three days sculpting Adam. Exhausting yet exhilarating. Once the portrait was back in the studio I did a few more tweaks to lighten the feel of his hair. Then off to have the mould made and for it to be cast in plaster. Here are the photos documenting the process so far: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hazelreeves/sets/72157628054654591/