At this time, I make three different kinds of sculptures:
Real big ones. I call them Wall Murals. They’re what I get the biggest thrill out of. They’re the reason I do the work.
Smaller Murals. Made of a thinned wire. Not quite so big, but good if someone wants a large drawing in a smaller space.
And Models. Sometimes I make a model out of copper wire to help people decide on a piece.
The wire wall murals (larger free-hanging sculptures) are steel wire (9 gauge or 5/32nd-inch diameter). I weld (braze) the pieces together with flux-coated brass you can buy at a welding supply store.
The gas mixture I use for brazing copper to steel (Oxygen & Propane) makes the steel red hot, but doesn’t melt or deform it. It’s not too hot to melt the steel, yet hot enough to melt the brass. I’ve tried using arch welding, but you have to wear very dark glasses to protect your eyes and you can’t see the metal you’re welding. Not being able to see what you’re doing really cuts back on the creative process. The mixture I use doesn’t require dark glasses. That’s important because I never clamp the material into place. I just lay something heavy on the wire ( I use antique Sad Irons) to hold it there for a few moments while I braze.
The process is the same as for Murals (above). I just use a lighter wire (12 gauge or 3/32nd-inch diameter). The result is a mural about half the size.
I use 14 gauge copper wire (bought from an electrical supply store) for the models and I solder the pieces together using a heavy duty 100 Watt solder iron (the kind stain glass artists use) with rosin-core solder I buy from Radio Shack. When finished I paint the pieces with black Rust-oleum and mount them on foam core.
The copper wire isn’t really very strong. It’s intended for grounding electrical fixtures and its very soft. I like it because you can bend it many more times before it breaks. That allows me to work out details. Brass wire would be stronger (depending on how much Tin is in it), but you can’t bend it a lot.
The Template Drawing:
I use my hands or pliers to bend the wire. Needle nose pliers for the models and larger pliers for the murals.
The drawings I trace with the wire are generally started on a computer (Power Mac) using Adobe Photoshop. I use the pen tool to make paths and move them around until I like what I have. Then I export the paths to Adobe Illustrator and print the illustration to the size I want. That size is usually 11X17 inches (two 8-1/2X11 sheet that I tape together) for the models and 4 by 5 inches for the larger pieces (I project them on to plywood with an opaque projector and trace the image with a marker).
I could start and finish my drawing using Illustrator software, but I have found the drawing tool hard to work with in illustrator. Photoshop is not as precise and that allows you to play with the image a lot more before you determine that it’s finished. Also Photoshop allows me to trace photos and drawings to use as a starting point. When I think of an image that interests me I can draw it quickly on a piece of paper, then scan the drawing with a scanner and manipulate it with Photoshop for hours until it’s exactly what I want.
I didn’t always use a computer. When I first started making drawings for sculptures, I used a drafting pen on tracing paper. I’d make a shape, then change it by tracing it a little differently on another piece of tracing paper. If I wanted to remove a line, I cut away the tracing paper that held the line with an utility knife. To add two partial drawings together, I used a stapler. If things got to messy, I traced the image over again. I still essentially do the same thing, today, but the computer makes it much easier.
For me, making wire sculptures is like drawing in space with a flashlight – only the light stays long after the flashlight is gone. I like that, too, because I can go back to the drawing and make changes to it or eliminate parts of it with a pair of pliers.
The drawing method I use:
I use a variation of vector drawing when I do my sculptures. The technique is unlike traditional drawing methods, where the artist uses an instrument (like pen or pencil) to create the line and the image at the same time. In this process of drawing, the artist takes an already created line, then shapes it into an image by bending and twisting it. I call it Vector Drawing after the drawing process used by some computer programs.
I find that Vector Drawing uses a different set of creative abilities then traditional drawing. In traditional drawing, the artist creates a likeness of something in one or a few strokes of a pen or pencil on paper. In Vector Drawing, the artist measures out a length of wire, first. Next, he bends it into something. Then, he views it and bends again. The image is never final, like the one made of ink on paper. Even months later, after viewing it on a wall, the artist can still make minor changes by bending or twisting the wire.
Vector Drawing isn’t new, either. Art students are often assigned a wire drawing project. Alexander Calder used the technique. Computer artists use the technique. Only, they use a line created by a computer (not wire), and they change it by manipulating “handles” at each end of the line.
Because they are produced differently, the wire drawings have a different feel to them. Because they aren’t attached to paper or canvas, they can be big without costing a lot. Because they hang slightly away from the wall,
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