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How'd you do that?

Some questions I'm asked when I tell folks that I'm an artist:

1. How long does it take you to make that?

2. What's polymer?

3. Is it solid?

4. Does it get fired in a kiln?

5. Will it break?

6. Can you make _______?

7. How'd you do that?

So some quick answers to FAQ's

1. I can be a smarty and say 50 years, starting from my first day in college. But, the answer that most people want is from start to finish creating a sculpture. That answer varies depending upon the size and amount of detail. Most of my sculptures take me about a week from start to finish. If I'm working on multiples, it can be longer. If I start and stop like I did with Cally and Tux (above) it can be even longer. But the average is about a week.

2. This is my fun question. More and more people are learning about polymer and the art that's being created in this medium. Polymer is actually very similar to uncured PVC. Think of the white plumbing pipes. That's cured polymer that's extruded to create the pipe form. Yes, it's plastic. But hopefully art - plastic that will never be thrown into a trash heap. Hopefully polymer artworks will live on just like the terra-cotta clay sculptures and artifacts of the ancient Greek and Romans. The happy thing about polymer is that it can be more durable, so yes, perhaps future inhabitants of earth will be digging up in tact polymer art thousands of years in the future.

3. Most polymer sculptures are not solid. There are a couple of reasons to not make a polymer piece solid. The first is cost. Polymer does not enjoy the cost factor that ceramic clay does. Polymer can be pricey when you are using it in large quantities. The other reason is that by taking a sheet of polymer and covering an armature, you thin out the thickness and shorten the cook time as well as reducing the weight. And lastly, thick clay can tend to crack when cured. So 1/4" thick is usually what artists shoot for.

4. Polymer gets cooked (cured) in an oven. Some folks use tabletop convection ovens, toaster ovens, conventional kitchen ovens. As long as the temperature gets up to 275 degrees F, it will harden. The length of time that I cure my pieces starts at one hour and for large pieces will cover several hours. It's funny because as a potter I was always asked if it was baked in the oven. The sculpture above, Cally, cured over several sessions so that I was able to add her fins and not smush other fins.

5. Polymer, although it is very durable, can break. You have to work at getting it to break but it will break.

6. Can you make (fill in the blank)? I have been known to be versatile as far as sculpting goes. But I prefer to not make everything. Every so often I'll have an idea or see a photograph and add that to my list of things that I'd like to attempt. But I kind of stick to fish, cats, and dogs. I've been known to make a flying squirrel, giraffe, gorilla, penguins (lots of penguins way back when), pigs, cows, hippo, elephant, panda. But I seem to always come back to Fish. Please don't be offended if I say no to a project.

7. And, finally How'd you do that? For my most recent exhibition piece that is currently part of the Florida CraftArt show called Woof, Meow, Chirp and Slither, I created a duo that I dubbed, Cally and Tux On The Road Again. It's a sculpture of a large calico goldfish with a tuxedo cat along for the ride.

Cally and Tux as photographed for the show submission.

Now back in time. This initial large fish form was one that I created and cured. It was just the body shape and tail. I had other deadlines and let it sit for several months. That's a great thing about polymer, by the way. You'll notice that I have holes that I drilled (another great thing about polymer). The bottom of the fish gives you an idea of how I use the holes. I add a bit of uncured clay and then embed the armature wires and attach the fin and blend it all into the cured part of the fish body. The wires add extra support for the large fin.

This is after all of the additions have been finished and Cally has had her final curing in the oven. I've started work on Tux and I'm trying to find a good fit on Cally's fin. Tux has not yet been cured so I can push it in place to get the right curve. No front legs added yet for Tux.

This is Tux after his session in the oven. I've also added a base coat of white gesso. The gesso helps the acrylic paints adhere better and takes away any darkness that the beige clay adds.

Front view of Tux. The holes in his cheeks are for the addition of his whiskers after painting is complete.

And, here's Cally, resting on a bed of polyester fiber fill. That's what I use as a cushion for my pieces when I put them in the oven. It adds support and keeps them from picking up any unwanted dents, dings and impressions of other items. She's also resting comfortably in a turkey roasting pan. Yes, she is larger than a Thanksgiving turkey! And, yes, she was cured in a regular kitchen oven. She won't fit into my tabletop convection oven. Sliding back up you can see some a little bit of how I do what I do. For the painting, I use a heavily pigmented acrylic gouache paint and then 3 coats of satin polyurethane varnish. For Cally's beads and earrings, I roll the clay, and paint using the same blue that I used for her eyes and coated the beads with a resin-like product called Deep Shine. Lots of wires, and epoxy glue. And for more insider info - for the base for this piece I used two wooden round clock faces that I glue together using wood glue and then clamp the two so that they become like one thicker piece. They're pre-drilled for clock hands so one less step. I use a wooden dowel and I leave Cally unglued so she can rotate without having to turn the base. I also made one addition that's not shown in the submission photograph. I added a tuxedo bow tie to Tux. It took me a few tries to find the perfect curve so that the bowtie could be glued properly. But all's well that ends well. So that's it in a large nutshell! Now, my question to you - what's the conversation between Cally & Tux? You know that they have to be chatting it up!