Making process is never straight forward. Any way that works is the right way
for me. With #63, it wasn’t an exception. I’ve gone through lots of trials and
errors and finding and getting lost. And it lasted about 4 years.
The first step is usually getting the core idea of the piece. It’s an impression of
the work, or a glimpse of what it can be; it’s the backbone of the piece I can hang
onto during the making process. It might be a quick find with a strong conviction,
or I might get it through numerous sessions of brain storming in my sketchbook.
Either way, it usually ends up as a very rough sketch on a piece of paper.
So this is the seed of the piece (above). It’s a crude memo to remember what ticked
me about the piece. Depending on the piece, it can be refined more before I work on
the actual shape. With #63, I did make a few more, just to have rough idea of working
with actual materials.
#63 was made in five sections, partly because of the practicality (to make it manageable
in my studio, because of the weight issue basically), and partly, I wanted to incorporate
the dividing lines as part of the piece. Each section’s core was made with foam and wood.
Here is how the core looked at its rough stage (below).
I usually paint the core white to see the shape without the colors of the foam and
wood. The form just has to click into the right place before I go on to the next phase.
Next, the five sections were covered with plaster shells. In order to extend some
dividing lines to the individual sections, plaster was applied in sections.
After going through numerous adjustments, the basic form is decided. Having
the actual shape in front of me helps me to see what has to happen in grasping
the essence of the piece. For instance, compared to the initial plan, I gave more
volume to the top part (upper right in the picture below) and the opposite end also
received a wider top than the lower bottom.
Working with surface is a big part of my process. I like a natural, realistic
appearance that immediately draws me in. Some sculptors might achieve this by
meticulous observations of the materials they use. Or some might chose to focus
on the forms by minimizing the surface variations. With my painting background,
I seem to naturally lean toward making up the whole surface, inch by inch basically.
For this piece, I put down 8 to 10 layers of flat white enamel to start. The plaster
surface was sealed prior to being painted.
The clean surface is covered with a mixture of wax, resin and tar. The thick mixture
is spread slowly with a heat gun. This layer allows me to see what the surface is
doing. The imperfections left in the plastering stage and in the painting stage
become active elements for the work.
#63 brought me into a new territory on a few levels. It’s a first freestanding piece
with a rather complex shape (compared to the other ones I worked on!). I wanted
to fully utilize various views with their own appeals. I wanted to give the front view
a certain visual drama, and if you walk around to the side, you would be greeted by
a different sensation and so on. Also, I wanted to pull the piece together with a
freestyle paint job instead of relying too much on textures or repeating patterns.
Working in this fashion on a 3D surface was a new challenge for me. The surface
would be rough and raw. Simple shapes, lines, subtle tone shifts, contrasts and
etc. can totally energize, and give significance to a blank field. An example of this
approach would be #8 which I finished in 1996:
The sensation of getting to that point is rather ecstatic. And with #63, I wanted to
activate the whole 3D shape: Give it a sense of all charged up object with its own
character and history. It was a piece to throw my euphoric desperation of being in
my 40s at (you can read a bit about it here), and dig away and explore.
The decisions in the process are made intuitively. By intuitive, I don’t mean to be
random or aimlessly shooting in the dark. I believe our brains can make certain
tasks automatic with accumulated experiences and knowledge. Sometimes in
our daily lives we feel certain things to be right or wrong just by glancing at them.
And we try to figure out what logic went into that feeling. The intuitive step in
my process is a lot like that. It’s not a particular reasoning skill or a theory that
decides the next step but it’s the flash of impulse that strikes when your mind is
empty yet totally alert to every possible step. I value this method since it simply
works in reaching the convincing, realistic presence of the piece, and also it’s a
totally personal and honest step that comes right out of who you are. I also
suspect that the intuitive process would not only encompass our learned skills
and knowledge but it also reflects our instinctive, physiological tendencies.
For instance, people have been asking me if they can touch the piece at shows.
And I gently tell them that the surfaces are fragile. But I really have to admit
that the sense of touch is a real and important component of our experiences.
One interesting aspect of this is that recent studies are revealing an intriguing
mechanism of our lives being influenced by the world of microorganisms.
Our bodies, inside and outside, are surrounded by layers of bacterial colonies
which have been influencing our existence in unknown ways. Who knows
what visual elements trigger our sense of touch which affects the populations
of those invisible layers around us and in turn influences our physiological
beings. The intuitive process must go quite deep on many levels.
OK, let’s try to go over the process by showing you the basic steps I took. Once
I got to know the general feel of the surface by browning the entire surface
(putting the thin tar wax layer), I started to divide the surface with fine lines.
This further deepens my understanding of the shape and it also gives the suggestion
of an organized whole with a sense of weight and structural integrity. It is also
effective in emphasizing the gestural quality of the shape or suggestion of the
movement. Natural, effortless application of lines at the right spots is often needed
to ensure an intuitive impression of the surface as opposed to a contrived, manipulative
impression. What’s been effective in achieving this is the following technique:
First, two masking tapes are put side by side real close leaving a very tight gap.
Second, I prepare either thick paint (I usually use mixtures of Oil Bars which
has a good ratio of wax and paint for the purpose) or the above mentioned tar,
wax and resin mixture on a cloth.
After applying the paint. I go over the surface with dry cloth. This will ensure
the right amount of paint in the gap.
The straight line you can see above is the result. You can see how fine it can be
compared to the pencil lines next to it. It can be even sharper if I demonstrated
it on a painted surface. Unfortunately, for this, I used a cardboard. The
transparency of the line can also be adjusted by lifting some paint by putting
masking tape directly over it before it gets dried. The wiping process above is
important since excessive paint would smudge the line during the transparency
adjustment. By using ultra thin flexible tapes, it’s possible to draw any sort of
perfect lines or shapes.
The divided surface often guides the intuitive placement of patterns and marks,
which leads to imply tension, balance, gravity and etc. for the piece, just as a
successful figure drawing would imply all of those with underlining bone
structures and flexing muscles.
In addition to the contrasty black patterns, very subtle tone shifts and marks are
painted. Although they seem accidental and spontaneus, they are applied in a
very controlled manner. Following is an example of applying a small smudge:
First, the area to be altered is carefully masked.
Second, paint is applied.
The opacity of the paint is controlled by lifting some paint with the clear tape.
The smooth surface of the tape and the even amount of adhesive is great for
adjusting the strength of the tone consistently.
First layer removed.
Second layer removed.
The third removal achieved the desired tone shift for the area. This method
enables bold, spontaneous strokes in a very controlled fashion. It’s sort of like
a localized, instant print making technique. This tape print method can be
done on much larger areas. It often produces unexpectedly beautiful tone shifts
and textures just as you might in mono prints.
Some areas are treated with sanding and waxing resulting in varied smoothness
in addition to the tone shift. You can see an example below (circled area with red).
Following example shows the combination of controlled smoothness and tone
shift resulting in an inlay effect:
An area to have the inlay effect is masked.
The area is sanded with steel wool (very fine water proof sand paper is also
used depending on the area).
You can see the difference in the smoothness by the slight reflection.
Paint is prepared.
The excess paint is taken with steel wool.
Here, unfortunately, the steel wool removed too much paint. I will have to go
in again for another try.
More paint is applied…
Here, the paint is being removed by kneaded eraser. It’s a great tool in the
subtle removal of paint. A regular eraser is also effective depending on the area.
I particularly like an electric eraser for detailed removal of paint (my choice is
the Sakura Electric Eraser. It’s also a great drawing tool).
The inlay technique was also used in making the intricate surface of #62 which I
finished in 2009. Here is the detail of #62:
One of the keys to the intuitive process is to have a fresh perspective that doesn’t
rule out any possibilities. However, it’s a tough thing to have, especially when you
are struggling to see what should be the next step. It gets particularly tougher
when you are going into new territories. You are learning as you go along. There
will be more trials and errors. The harder you try to think, the more likely you are
to disturb the automatic thinking process that let your visions appear for you…
I think one effective approach to counter this is to tackle the issue from as many
ways as possible. For #63, I set up a computer with a digital camera tethered in
order to see the piece on screen. This enabled me to see the piece with different
lights, color casts, through various filters and etc. in addition to seeing it flipped
or turned. Also this allowed me to simulate certain paint jobs before I actually
worked on the piece. The speed and efficiency is quite useful in making me see
what is going on with the piece. The digital files are also good thinking aids
outside of my studio.
So after a few years of pushing and pulling, digging and burying, the piece is
finally done. One question I get asked often at talks I give is”when do you know
that the piece is done?”. To me, it’s done when the piece has an impression of
simplicity. No matter how complex the piece is, I can grasp the wholeness of
the mass without making the piece fall apart. Every element in the piece has its
function and it is working toward building the solid presence of the piece. It’s a
great feeling to have when the piece is done. Here are some images of the finished
#63. The full picture set with large view options can be found at main part of the site.
Once you go to the site, please click on the bottom icons that say #63. The set is
separated into #63 (page 1) and #63 (page 2).