Friday, October 31, 2014

Does Not Want To Be Made Manifest

This is my second biggest class, and they are cranking out the stuff. I don't think this is a record, at least in terms of amount of bronze or in number of pieces, but it's up there.

One student, a musician, read up on a guy named Harry Parch. He decided he wanted to make a Parch-like instrument similar to his Gourd Tree with Cone Gongs.

I had never done bellfounding, rather liked the idea of the gourd tree, and am a frustrated musician, I said why not? So, the kid is cranking out bells. Lots of bells. Not sure how this will turn out, but we are to cast a lot of bells.

I'm not sure how many bells, or how he is going to tune them, as we don't have a metal lathe here. Many of the bells were fashioned from bowls, so I assume the tuning part may be mostly happenstance? I don't know.

My own stuff I am having problems with. I had a wax tree work just fine until just this afternoon, when I set it down, and the weight of the investment bent a wax rod and broke the mold.

My solution was to just cut off the part that broke and fashion new pouring cup for it to pour separately. And I will just seal off the break on the other part of the tree.

But the other piece is just a problem child. It has broken three four times now, and I'm starting to think it does not want to exist. That, of course, is the Pathetic Fallacy. My inattentiveness is the reason for the breakage. I do pride myself in not having tantrums after they break. There was a time when I would rage for awhile before I fixed it. Perhaps getting older makes you realize that tantrums are a waste of time.

In any case, I'm off to the hardware store to get furnace cement and fix it that way, as the investment is now too thick to recoat and repair.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Yeah, I Been Busy

The past week has seen me trying to get my students' pieces rigged up and ready for investing in ceramic slurry. I mixed up the batch on Monday, which now seems like a month ago.

I have been sacrificing getting my stuff ready to act as Mother Hen over the kids so that the amount of mishaps - never zero - is kept to a minimum. I actually prefer that they make mistakes, because they learn faster and the lesson is retained longer. But the mistakes must be controlled so that it is not a complete disaster. Thus, my teaching style is: let them fail, up to the recoverable point, and then step in before it is a complete wash.

I just now (8:19pm, Tuesday, October 29th) finished rigging up my planned pieces to cast. I will show  you them in a second. I've kind of decided that I should do more than just document these things, but to present them as pieces of art in and of themselves. So, that's how they are presented...

These are the cockroach like plutonium poppers, or something like that. The first batch of them failed, and I am keeping the failure as an teaching object for almost every casting defect you can get. And the failures were all in the rigging of the pieces. These, rigged more properly, should work fine, but we shall see...

This guy, upside down, is a Tipsie Driver, or a Tipsie Herder.

 This looks like the mask of the Beetle King, but it is, upside down, the Chemical Segway for the Tipsie Driver. (I called it a tentacle segway, but a kid misheard it as chemical seaway, and I liked that better).

 These are Tipsies...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Client's Bronzes Pretty Much Finished

The client's name is Philip Soosloff. I completed two sets of bronzes for him. All that is required now is for him to approve and/or apply finishing touches to the bronzes. Phil started out as a ceramics artist, got interested in doing sculptural landscapes with forced perspective, but they all have a narrative as well.

He crafted the originals in ceramic. I made silicon rubber molds of them, then wax, then lost wax, then bronze, then welded, then cleaned and chased, then patinated them.

The first is baseball themed: an old guy pretending. The piece is about 12" in any dimension and weighs about 35 lbs.

The second is nautical themed: a boat on the ocean in a coffee cup. The piece is in three separate pieces and is about 8" x 6" x 8".

I think I'm done. Hope he likes them.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


A while back I wrote an essay about manipulating hot glass to make supertight twisted cane. Playing with the technique, I discovered you could twist in one direction, and then stop, twist in the other direction, and create what is known as a hemihelix with multiple perversions.

At the time, I didn't have a video of the technique, but now I do on youtube. Here it is:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Progess in Client's Bronze

Actually I just realized I probably should not show you pictures of the client's bronzes as I do not have permission from him. Instead I will show you pictures of bronzes I made that I piggybacked off his casting run.

Doodle Bugs, they were literally doodles in wax I did during off time

M. esspessamento, a mechanicule, 2014, bronze, approx. 3" x 3" x 3"

M. venieredibantus, a mechanicule, 2014, bronze, approx. 4" x 2" x 2"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Done Run Out of Luck

The client pieces I was commissioned to cast are done. Right about one third of the way in to casting last weekend, my lance pyrometer decided to die. I had to gauge the temperature of the bronze by eye. Considering they all cast fairly OK, I have to chalk it up to being lucky.

There are two conceptions of luck, or maybe five.

One is that luck is random contingency, and as such is probably infinite in expanse. Given that, some would argue that it's application is random, and thus there is no correlation between lucky events. Others suggest that there may be a correlation, in which case lucky events stick together, and if you are experiencing luck, best to ride out the streak and score as much as you can. In other words, if things are working out for you, best to buy that lottery ticket.

The other view is that luck is a finite commodity. This could mean that the views of its application are similar to above (either no or some correlation). I view it as, more like a Pareto distribution, in which case the events tend to congregate towards the prosaic, but one cannot ignore the fat tails of luck inhabited by black swans and dragon kings. If, as I suspect, ordinary events are the more common (more things can go wrong than can go right), then luck can be used up. I know this doesn't make much sense, but it's pragmatic principle. If I've lucked out on something, I'm unlikely  to push the envelope and buy that lottery ticket.

So, anyway, I got lucky casting these things, with a minimum amount of casting defects. Two of the pieces used all the 48 pounds of metal in the crucible. One of the big ones, I poured the bronze just a tad too hot (which I could tell once we started pouring into the mold). That too hot piece I took outside into the pouring rain, and then hosed it down. (The idea being that there was a good chance the piece would not cool down fast enough and a shrink porosity defect would occur). The amount of steam was such that a good twenty foot cloud appeared, and we could have attacked an ISIS position with such cover.

As it was, I did indeed have a defect in the piece, a heat tear in some interior detail.

"Well, maybe he (the client) will like that defect" rationalized my student aide.

"Yeah, if he likes his babies with birth defects, sure" I replied.

I have noticed my tennis elbow (and left hand) have been complaining a lot. I've been soaking my left arm in ice at night, and helps, but my suspicion is the lifelong damage is there to stay, and I just have to work through the pain. And work I must do, as these metal pieces will not fix/pretty up themselves.

Here's some pics.
Figures rigged with my critters tagging along
 My rule for rigging which I must constantly remind myself: ABV! (Always Be Venting)
Pieces with ceramic shell on them
 I would have you notice that the two hands have slightly different but similar rigging, and one ended up with a shrink porosity defect. I attribute this to not keeping the runners equidistant with respect to the thickness of the piece.
Rigging is more art than science
 I gambled the amount of metal left in the crucible would fill the mold, and lost...
Oops. Gotta fix that hole.
 My hands ache like you would not believe, so I take break.
Grinding with air die tools
 It's getting harder and harder to grind/fettle/sand/file/chase stuff clean and not feel it for days afterwards.
Hole in hand welded up, ground down

I'm 60 in three years. I don't know if my tendonitis will go away,or if my body will hold together.  I dread not being able to do this anymore. Dread is too weak a word. I can't imagine not doing this.

Monday, October 13, 2014

West of the Revolution: A Book Report

West of The Revolution, by Claudio Saunt. This book takes place circa 1776, in places on the North American continent besides the English Colonies. It explores the conditions that existed beyond our parochial little world view. Like the book Empires, Nations and Families, by Anne F. Hyde, Saunt covers the real history of the Continent, the real powers that governed and ruled within America. Hyde's narrative takes place during the period 1804-1860 or so. Saunt limits himself to the decade of the Revolution, and of course, the First World War, otherwise known as the Severn Years War, or the French and Indian war. The decisions concerning the partitioning of the North American continent along the Mississippi river resonate down to this day, but not due to decisions made in the peace treaty in Paris, rather how those decisions were taken advantage of by American Indians.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, after he entertained the Osage chiefs in Washington DC, "The truth is, the Osages are the Great Nation south of the Missouri. Among them we must stand well, because in their quarter we are miserably weak".

About a month ago, Jonathan Chait wrote an essay called "A Southern GOP Can't Be the Party of Lincoln" detailing the North/South split of our country that started prior to the Revolution, and festers down to this day. He lays out how the Republican party is essentially now the party of the Confederacy. David Brin picked up on the theme, and riffed his own take on this ongoing  event of the divide along the Mason-Dixon line.

A fairly interesting and worthwhile investigation, this examination of the North/South cultural divide within America, but it misses the far more interesting East/West divide. More to the point, the cultural difference between North and South are for the most part trivial. Both were interested in conquering and exploiting the continent west of the Appalachians, and later, west of the Mississippi.

While elites of the South would have preferred a vision of of a continental realm of landed gentry and hereditary rule, patterned on jolly England, the North was willing to eschew titles and pomp, but keep the mercantile power. Both the North and the South were all about cheap labor, their visions differed only slightly. While the South opted for the idea of chattel slavery, the North preferred trading cheap food for cheap people. Both wanted to exploit labor and ingenuity of peoples to the optimum value they could wrest from them. And why not? Labor was the only sticking point, getting people to do all the work for you, as everything else was practically free, no? That was the colonial vision of lands west: a world with no history, populated by peoples of no consequence.

So it is worthwhile to understand exactly what was going down outside of a tiny feeble set of English colonies clutching to the Eastern seaboard. In fact, I'm going to reproduce a striking map found in Saunt's book. Here we see the populated areas of the American colonies free of geopolitical symbolic borders.

Courtesy of West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt
Looks a lot like a bad case of black mold ready for some chlorine bleach, doesn't it? And honestly, had native peoples west and south had any idea what was going to happen to them over the next two hundred years, I'm sure they would have applied a generous hosing down of bleach to rid the continent of this invasive species.

(And spare me the "those Stone Age slow learners didn't stand a chance against our superior technology" line. That's a trope that needs to die. Indians consistently and successfully bested and slaughtered European-style armies through and beyond colonial times. If you look at the map, English colonists had after almost two hundred years only made in ways into the Continent of only three weeks traveling time by foot. For every one surviving colonist, ten were sent from England, an attrition rate that few nations would find acceptable today. One of the single worst defeat, to this day, of the United States Army is the Battle of a Thousand Slain in Ohio country in 1791).

Our (America's) only advantage, aside from the fact that we Europeans are a miserably filthy and disgustingly germ-ridden race, is that we were able to reproduce at something close to biological maximum. Certainly this could not have occurred in Europe, and especially Northern Europe, without the advantage of the new food crops available through the Columbian exchange. Nor could we, as a nation, have thrived without two of the largest welfare programs ever conceived: the Louisiana Purchase, and the Homestead Acts. If any stupid fat white old conservative man should bother you about how superior they are due to innate white abilities, and how they could have been successful without a single penny of government monies, I suggest you spit and laugh in that parasite's face. Those soft squishy leeches make the fictional Cadillac driving welfare queen look like a paragon of Working Class Pride. They have not the slightest clue as to how they have been coddled and pampered by government largess and the coincidence of history. Capitalism was subsidized by the treasures of the New World. Do not confuse any supposed inherent systemic superiority for sheer dumb stupid Luck.

Okay, sorry for drifting. The book covers most of the continent outside of the Revolution, and contains may fascinating details.

We learn how Russians conduct trade among the Aleuts: kill some, take others hostage, demand the natives hunt sea otters or they kill the hostages, then give them trinkets after they've hunted enough for them (which the Russians are ineptly incapable of doing, hunting sea otters by the way).

We learn how the Spanish had at best two paltry fingers of colonization sticking up into the continental United Staes: Santa Fe, and maybe San Diego. But the whole enterprise was pretty damn pathetic for the longest time, and they relied heavily upon the charity of Indians.

(In fact, this is a common them for early western US history: the people that head west rely heavily upon native american charity and the largesse of the Federal government).

We learn how the Lakota from Minnesota discovered the Black Hills in 1776. The great thing about the Black Hills is, since they stick above the prairie, they trap rain. The area around the Black Hills stays rich and verdant even when the rest of the Great Plains are bone dry.

We learn how, had the Creek been assisted by the stupid short-sighted Spaniards, the South may never have risen. We also learn how, had the Creek become purveyors of goods to the fastest growing slave colony of Georgia, they may have had a considerable economic clout, and perhaps could have avoided being booted off their lands in the 1830s. (In fact, had the Indians been willing to trade with the British rather than the Spanish in Cuba, I rather suspect Indian regiments would have served the South in the Civil War).

We learn most especially just how poisonous were the attitudes of the Founding Fathers toward Indians west of the Appalachians, how they were at best seen as impediments, and at worse vermin to be wiped at the earliest opportunity.

Most especially, we learn how fur was, for the longest time, more precious than gold. Because, quite simply Fashion is at least a 200,000 year old industry, back when we first started clothing ourselves, and for the longest time, clothes were our most important technology.

When you look at a map of languages and cultures of the United States of America, you will see that ancient America is still here, despite out best efforts to wipe it all out. There may come a day when the East/West divide becomes far more important than the North/South.