Thursday, May 27, 2010

Long time coming........

My husband and kids are the best thing that ever happened to me.  By just being themselves they push me to places I should have been a long time ago but was to scared to go.  They have more faith in me than I have in myself and I am continually grateful for that.  Well, grateful once the 'you want me to make what??' is over.

Recently Mark, my youngest son, asked if I could make him a small statue to represent his section of the Air Force Flight School class he was in. They used to have a mascot, but it had been stolen and sold on e-bay.  Very embarrassing, but also a good reason for an update.  He wanted it about 30 inches high and as heavy as I could make it. Oh, and could it please have a place on it for a chain and a lock? And can it look like a cartoon superhero but with six-guns, a bandit mask and a flight helmet?

Silly me, I said yes. Didn't even hesitate.  Be glad to help, I said the day he phoned.  You want it in six weeks? Piece of cake.  Ha!

Hubby Russ was in the background warning me not to do it. He said I didn't have the time.  Shows what he knows. I can always make time for something my sons want.  It was my lack of any idea of how to go about it that was the problem!

To make a long story short, The first try was a disaster.  I carved the figure out of foam insulation and used paper mache for details. As recommended by the miriad of websites I researched for the project, I sealed the figurine with several coats of rather expensive shelac.  But even with a good amount of release, it got stuck in the plaster mold. I mean really stuck. It ame out in bits and pieces.

The first deadline came and went. The idea of creating a mold to pour concrete into went out the window as well. Waaaaay to expensive. I'd need at least $200 worth of rubber compounds in order to avoid another disaster.  Even though I was dying to try out that method, the cost of materials certainly wasn't in the budget.

The next plan was to mold with the concrete itself. I had done a bit of this years ago but only over a form that was already solid. This needed to be a free-standing wire armature. Out came the concrete sculptor's bible 'Making Concrete Garden Ornaments by Sherri Warner Hunter'.  With the book and help from Russ in suggesting copper tubing for the basic armature the project finally looked like it was going to work.  This, of course, was after a morning of heating rebar and trying to bend it into shape.  And discovering we don't own a reliable bench vice and that the 3/8 rebar I had on hand was complete overkill.

Here's the wooden box for the base with holes drilled through it so the copper tubing could be anchored in the concrete that would be poured into it.  I used screws to hold the tubing in place. It was much easier to drill than I though it would be.

The mold base had to be supported upside down while the concrete dried. It got only 24 hours to settle before being righted so work could continue.  Ordinary mortar mix was used for the base with a layer of wire mesh added in the middle. The ends of the copper tubing were barely hidden under the cement so they would give maximum support to the sculpture right from the start.

Chicken wire was wrapped around the tubing to support the concrete. For added measure glass fibers were added to the mortar mix before it was applied. The water used in the mix was cut 3 to 1 with acrylic bonding agent that makes the concrete stickier and more suited to vertical application. This statue was going to be a strong as it was heavy!

Bit by bit the concrete was applied. Each layer or section was covered in plastic and allowed to set at least 24 hours before any more was added.  Two inch wide sections of woven scrim tape used for drywalling was wrapped around each layer before more wet cement was added. That way each layer had it's own integral support.

Some of the detail was created by careful grinding and filing. A dremel tool worked well for fine detail and for getting into the tight curves.  Using a big grinder was much more dramatic and way more fun!  

Other sections of detail were added by mixing concrete and using it like clay.   The bandit mask and harness straps were pieces of cloth dipped in watery concrete and stick to the surface. After they dried they were reinforced with several layers of thin concrete.  The final surface was a brushed on slurry coat.  

Painting took two days!   The eyes were a challenge. I had made the brow-bone too emphatic. It was much to late to change it. By now Mark's course was just about over and everyone would be leaving soon. It was time to wrap this project up and get it shipped whether I was 100 per cent happy with it or not.

Mark will apply a glossy spray once the paint has cured a bit. It really needs that.
Russ helped with the crating. Or, should I say I helped him with the crating. I didn't trust myself to build  it right. I knew I'd either overbuild or underbuild.  The shipping limit for the bus was 100 pounds. In the end the statue and crate weighed in at  93 pounds! Just made it!

Marks likes it and is presenting it to his class mates next week. Hope they like it too.
If this mascot gets stolen and sold on e-bay I hope it sells for more than the last one!