October 17, 2016

The Concrete Beast is Finished!

This is the latest Beast! It is 3 feet tall and made with styrofoam and layers of concrete. 

I had wanted its arms to move, but with the guidance of artist and builder of many wonderful things, Mark Girard, we decided that the arms must be securely attached...with aluminum nails...really long aluminum nails. And all the seams were filled with caulk.

At the location, where the beast will live, I built added height to the foundation

and covered it with layers of concrete! It was my first time working with this medium. I used Mortar Mix type N, and the first two bags had a super fine aggregate, like sand, which resulted in a super smooth layer. But the last bag, which was the last layer on the entire sculpture, had large grit in it. This made a more rough exterior. Oh well.

I was very proud of my accomplishment!

Knowing that this process would take weeks, my dear friends created a tent from a tarp to keep off any rain.  

Well, although there were some misty days with a drop or two, it didn't really rain. We are in a severe drought. Please may it rain.

Ken - tent maker extraordinaire. 

Jessica - beast friend extraordinaire.

Then came the day when the beast form arrived at the site. 

I began by working all of the undercut sections. First a slurry of concrete, then fiberglass mesh (the concrete oozes through the space between the fibers, holding it in place, and the mesh gives an additional layer of structure. 

To my dismay, I discovered that concrete does not adhere to undercut areas well AT ALL! Just when you think you've finally got a layer stuck, and you trowel that spot...one...more...time...the whole layer falls off! Gah! Sometimes it's great to be wearing a respirator on your face, because people can't hear you curse! (It's important to not inhale concrete dust.)

Maybe there's a secret that I don't know about, but I stuck with it and sloooowly I got layers to stick. 

The beast is looking a bit uncertain!

Where are my legs? Well, I knew where they were all right. Working so close to the ground, I crawled, stooped, squatted and actually lay down to apply concrete. Afterwards, my legs had something to say about all of that stretching!

Here's an example of a spot where the mesh needed to be covered. The fingers were a particular challenge as gravity wanted to pull any concrete I applied to the ground. Over and over again, I'd gently tap some concrete onto the form, hoping it would stay put. I found that using small amounts helped. The fingers ended up far more bumpy than I would have liked, but at a certain point, once I had them covered, I was afraid to look at them let alone touch them! Even a swift press of a trowel would have undone painstakingly slow work. 

The beast was all covered, but then suddenly, I knew there needed to be toes. I had always felt that this beast wanted toes, but when I had made them out of styrofoam for the basic form, it hadn't looked right. So, I'd thought, "Okay. No toes." But the beast thought otherwise! Concrete toes. 

Sometimes the expression of a beast takes a lot of trial and error before it appears. Not so with this one. And I would never had expected this look!

I used a white primer to seal it up. 

Suddenly the sculpture had a Presence. Still, it looked anemic, and just like making the first mark on a fresh piece of beautiful paper, I was nervous on what colors to use and what the overall look would be.  Jessica had mentioned that she liked the color of the styrofoam beast. So, I took a scrap to the local art supply store and looked at the spray paints. 

I have never used spray paint before, and I was looking forward to doing so! Tricky to chose paint color based on its tiny plastic cap! I wish that when I told the guy at the art store that I was a newbie, he would have mentioned that the nozzles can clog with paint! I got down to one nozzle that I had to switch between cans of different colors!! It was silly. 

I worked my way into a frenzy of paint application! Back and forth between two different blues, white and silver. 

I was so in the mode of painting, I didn't stop to take pictures of my progress. When I first applied the blues, they seemed so bright and colorful! However, the end result is a rather light pastel thing. The face was the last to be painted, and the pink spray paint was too forceful. I could not get a soft gradation, so I opted to work with paint brushes. I sprayed a piece of paper, and then dip the brush into that. 

Once those rosy cheeks were just as the beast wanted, I knew that I'd done my job. This project began in June, and now, 5 months later...finished.

September 11, 2016

The Vikings Arrived

I had no idea that a replica of a Viking ship, the Draken Harald Hårfagre, was going to be docking in nearby Kingston, but Ole and Knut sure did! They had been involved in the whole project, but in what way, I'm not sure. 

They were willing to stand still for a just a moment while I caught the moment with a picture.

Georges came along with me, and was very impressed with the Draken!

Ole and Knut ran off (as they were busy, busy, busy!) while Georges, Jessica Fillmore and I meandered along and took some snaps.

Strange to suddenly see a contemporary boat go by. 

September 3, 2016

An Exit and Entrance

There has been some excitement here at Jennifer Russell Studio!

As you many know, Georges Bête, is very fond of plants!

And a while back we brought in a whole bunch of succulents to live at the studio

Unfortunately, one of the plants died. 

Georges gave me a bit of a lecture on caring for plants because he knew that I had over watered it. This is ironic because one of the great things about succulents is that they are easy to take care of since you shouldn't water them often. 

"Well", I replied, "I cannot deny my undine nature!" To this, Georges agreed and stood in quiet contemplation of this truth. 

Time passed, and Georges and I had the tremendous pleasure of attending the wedding of Scott Bourne and Joëlle Frances! What a wonderful time we had! Such a magical weekend!

They are the caretakers of a lovely grotto, in which live some succulents:

I remarked to Joëlle how lovely they were and related my and Georges sad succulent story. I explained that I have too much of an affection with the element of water. 

And she said, "Why, you should get one of those Japanese moss balls that live in water!" I said, "Whaaat?!" and she said, "Yep!" Well, this was news that I couldn't wait to share with Georges. 

He was thrilled with the idea of getting water plants. "Mon dieu! Why hadn't I thought of that before?", he asked himself. But before we left the wedding, we nipped a couple succulents set aside as party favors, and then introduced them to our own succulent garden at home.

Then some research came into play and we learned all about Marimo Moss Balls! Then we discovered that Brier Pet and Feed had some available! Gleee!

This is how it happened:

They arrived in a bag!

Here they are in an appropriately shaped shell bowl! 

Here they are outside of the water. When they are submerged, they have a fluffy appearance, but in the hand, they feel just like every day, rough moss. Of course these plants are NOT moss. They are algae, and they can be found in such disparate places such as Japan, Estonia and Scotland! So, naturally, they would not like direct sunlight, and don't mind the cold. Perfect!

We are entranced!

In this unusually shaped glass container, the light refraction is extreme! This moss ball looks to be huge! I am enjoying Georges fascination with our new plant friends.

This is a more accurate view of their size. 

Marimo Moss Balls live in fresh water pools and lakes. The constant motion of the water keeps the algae in a ball shape. If left in a still container long enough, the algae will succumb to gravity and flatten out. It is funny that these two balls seem like individuals, but since they are algae, they are conglomerates of many lives all stuck together. 

August 11, 2016

A Beast of a New Kind

Yes, I had a vision of a Beast who lives by the side of a busy road, and sort of says "Hi."to those driving by.  This type of Beast would need to be large, and made to withstand the elements....kinda like made of concrete. 

So,  I have given myself the challenge of creating a 3 foot, concrete Beast. Have I ever worked with concrete before? No. Have I ever made a sculpture this large before? No. But why ever would that hinder me?!

I have enlisted the assistance of friend, artist and contractor, Mark Girard in this enterprise, and I do believe that I have a perfect front yard to place this Beast.

So, what is left to do? Start out with a solid block of Styrofoam and begin to carve.

The plan includes articulated arms, just like the smaller Beasts have.

The mess.

I must admit that this is the first time I've carved Styrofoam, and I must say that I don't like it. "Never again!" I think. In the sweltering 90 degree weather, I felt compelled to wear my respirator and bulky head phone / noise reducers because of the tiny bits and the squeaky, squeaky screeeching of the material. This caused dripping sweat and difficult breathing.

The bits get everywhere...

But we are getting closer!

And just about there, I think.

Mark and I had gotten together to plan where to go from this point on, but then!

And as fate would have it, I was shelving a book at the public library when I glanced up and saw, Making Concrete Garden Ornaments by Sherri Warner Hunter. She makes this process sound very do-able, so...we'll see, and I will keep you updated on how things go.