me at MGH

Sculpture Techniques

As a sculptor, I am a modeler, not a carver. I work primarily in clay and fire the finished clay sculptures in my kiln. The larger a clay sculpture is, the trickier the preparation for firing. The finished sculpture must be hollowed out to a 1" thickness so that air can escape during the firing process, or it will blow up in the kiln. Even when the sculpture has been prepared and fired correctly, not everything survives firing. Loading the sculpture into the kiln can also be perilous, much less the thermal shocks of heating and cooling in the kiln. After firing, the sculpture is “terracotta”, which means “baked earth” in Italian. Terracotta sculpture can be glazed or left unglazed. Usually I leave my terracottas unglazed because I hate to tamper with the delicate bloom of the pristine terracotta straight out of the kiln that shows forms and volumes so beautifully.

My bronze sculptures are made through the lost wax process. After adding the necessary gates and sprues for pouring, the outside of each wax sculpture is coated with a refractory material (ceramic shell). The wax is then burnt out and replaced with liquid bronze that has been heated to about 2000°F. After the bronze has cooled and hardened, the outer layer of refractory material is removed, the gates and sprues removed and the bronze cleaned up. When the clean up is complete, the bronze is patinated and mounted on a base.

Sometimes I make a mold of a sculpture, so that I can cast it in epoxy, slip or cement. I prefer slip casting over any other casting material. Slip is liquid clay that can be poured into a mold and ultimately fired in a kiln. To make a large terracotta or porcelain relief sculpture, it has to be slipcast. I make a plaster cast of the original clay relief. After the plaster mold hardens, it is separated from the relief, allowed to completely dry out, about 2 weeks. Then the mold is filled with slip which solidifies and dries as the plaster absorbs the water from the slip. When the slip is firm, it's separated from the mold, dried carefully (at least a week), and then the slipcast relief is fired in a kiln, about 1000°F for earthenware and about 2200 - 2500°F for porcelain.

To make a sculpture of epoxy bronze, a mold is made of the original sculpture. The mold can be made of rubber (silicone or latex) for multiple casts, or of plaster, for a single cast. The mold is coated with epoxy mixed with bronze powder, and then a layer of epoxy reinforced with fiberglass is added for strength. When the epoxy has cured, or hardened, the mold is removed and the sculpture is cleaned up.

Although new sculpture making, molding and casting materials are popping up all the time and I’m always experimenting, I like to stick with the old stuff. That’s partly because I’m not big on toxic materials. But also because I find it comforting to work with terracotta and bronze, which have been used to make sculpture for millennia. I like creating with such time honored materials in this quickly changing, confusing culture. I guess I am the opposite of a “cutting edge” artist. I’m focused on meditation, calm and quiet in the modern world, not sensationalism, spectacle making and attention grabbing. I try to sculpt subjects that are universal and would be easily recognizable and understandable to someone from 2000 BC, 1000AD or 2013 AD, from any culture or country. If time travel existed, I’d be ecstatic.