Sunday, July 2, 2017

17F-2, "Etude, op. 344, (Spaces)" (June 28)

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The report follows the images

Summer Sculpture

The early morning is calm, quiet and cool under low clouds. I go a block and a half through the damp air, then return to get the monopod. It helped the last time in taming Sculptor's Palsy.
    The summer day will be long. There's no need to start this early but to catch the low tide. I'd prefer an afternoon-to-sunset sculpture because the light is better for photography. The tide is right now and the sand is good. So, I make my way to the beach and walk out onto the broad expanse of dark and smooth sand.

Build number: 17F-2 (lifetime start #344); monolith on low riser
Title: "Etude, op. 344, (Spaces)"
Date: June 28
Location: Venice Breakwater, isthmus
Start: 0715, construction time approx. 6.5 hours
Size: about 41 inches tall, 21 inches diameter
Technique: Latchform, Box Filter 2, four full loads intertidal sand
Digital Images: 28, EOS-5D Mk IV and 85mm F/1.8, with RRS monopod (safeties and completed)
Volunteer photography: Larry Dudock, hand-held process and complete, and intervalometer
Volunteer videography: Larry Dudock, process and equipment
New Tools: none
New Equipment: none

1. Interior

I'd been looking at images of previous sculptures, with their hollows and graceful internal tendrils. My last several pieces have been more solid, exploring big shapes and how they fit together.
    The process has changed. An arch, which is what I started with, is basically a thin shape of sand around a large void. That idea has guided what I've done ever since. Sculptures have been defined as space surrounded by sand. Shaping the hole shapes the solid pieces, but what happens when one thinks more about the solid parts?
    Well, I ran immediately into the problem of how the solid parts fit with each other and into the sculpture's overall dimensions. For this sculpture I wanted to work more with space.
    The question is always about how to fit a graceful shape within the basic cylinder. First, I have to make the cylinder. The last one required four cart-loads of sand and a partial fifth load, and there was some sand left over. This time I fill the cart as full as is practical and run four loads to see how far that gets me.
    "What are you looking for here?" She's curly-haired, aniimated.
    "Sand." I look back, with a small sly smile.
    "You see, the sand here is finer than it is up higher." I point to the lighter-colored area near the high tide line. "Finer sand holds together better."
    "Sand is remarkable. I do experiments with clay and sand. People send me sand from all over the world, and I see how the sand works with the clay."
    "I did some of that at Cal State LA, years ago. The sand turned everything red. Low-fire."
    "This is high-fire. Different clays and sands respond differently."
    At first I think I'll be short of sand but the four full loads actually get me within an inch of the form's top, well within the "diminishing returns" area where water and sand splash out as I pack.
    "What are you doing?"
    "Sand sculpture. I'm nearly done packing the sand."
    "I've been working on short video projects of artists in California."
    "Have you heard of Suzi Zimmermann? She was here some years ago and made a short documentary about Venice artists."
    "I haven't heard of her. I'm from Cal State Long Beach, and have various students working on projects. Do you have a Web site?"
    "Yes. A blog, because it's quick and easy."
    "I don't have anything to write on. Can you contact me through CSBLB?"
    "I'll try to remember."
    "And I'll see if I can find your blog."
    This reminds me that I really need to get some simple business cards printed. I used to bring a pencil and scratch paper, but that never worked well in the damp, with sand.
    After some food and water, I start carving to the plan in my mind. Idea is one thing, sand is another, and as people start to gather on this warming summer day the distractions mount. I focus and ignore as much as I can, staying my carving tool until I have considered where the carved surface may go.
    It's another win for the Filter Trivet. There are no shell fragments in the sand to catch on a tool edge. A small thing, yes, but I like this lack of interruption in the sensual process of carving fine sand.
    Everything changes in the making. Translating what the mind's eye sees into the sand's hard reality is a fascinating process of carve-and-respond. Is what I see in my mind really better than what's coming out in the sand? How disciplined do I want to be? Enough, but not too much, and there's always the potential of a design-driven engineering mistake putting the whole piece on the ground in pieces.
    The result is much different from what I set out to make. No real surprise there. Maybe it's a necessary tension, maybe it's necessary exploration, maybe it's a simple lack of interest in excessive direction even from myself. Call it leaving room for the happy accident.
    There are some happy accidents here, traced in the lines of curves that I tried harder to move to something beyond a default connection. The intended delicate connections across the big broadly concave surface became more sturdy than delicate, but it is a summer afternoon, and busy.
2. Exterior Distractions

    One thing is sure: I've had enough of the noisy crowds. The sculpture wants more work but the basics are there. I have accomplished what I intended to, and perform a hurried clean-up and then some photography while people yell and spread boom-box simulated music across the isthmus.
    Choosing the 85mm lens was wise. I can set a large aperture and put most of the background clutter out of focus. Experience with the camera has taught me to dial in some negative exposure compensation when shooting the shadow side, to avoid losing highlights in the background. Film responds gracefully to such highlight areas, but digital gets ugly when clipped. The 5D MkIV has lower noise in the shadows so I can boost that in the editing and get a better image.
    "That's all for me, Larry. Thanks for the help." Even if I didn't need to make a restroom run, knowing I could if needed did help.
    "You're welcome. Thanks for telling me you were doing this."
    And with that, I turn my back on the beach and head for home. With the tide high walking the beach would be slow, so I head inland to the alleyway east of the Boardwalk and walk north. Slowly, steadily. Sand sculpture conditioning. I'm in better shape than I'd been after 17F-1.
    The interior lightness of 07F-10 escaped me on this one. I muse on that as I walk. It was 1996 when I started trying to shape the interior of a sculpture as much as the outside and learned, after several months, that this is harder than it looks. I have to think about what's not going to be there as much as what will be left in place, and plan the latter around the former. It requires a subtle concentration that's easily broken, and a feeling in the hands that goes beyond the mental images. There's a reason, I realize, why 07F-10 arrived 11 years after the first thought, and at the end of a series of sculptures done in quick sequence. The fingers forget. Oh, the basics remain but the feeling for subtle shapes becomes stiff. Runners stretch. I need more stretching exercises. This piece was a start.
    Later on, I have another thought about 07F-10: it was made with the Short Form. Smaller, less sand to haul, less time spent packing, less work. Right now it's as much work as I can manage to get the cart up the last hill to my street.
    After some food and a shower, I take a look at the images. The next day I edit them for the blog, and realize these are the best sand sculpture images I've ever had. The larger sensor in the camera makes for lovely smooth gradients, which is what I noticed in going from 35mm film to medium format.
    The rest of the day fades into fog. I put my weary self to bed.

 Official Builder Photo by Larry Dudock
Santa Monica
2017 June 29, 30; July 1

Saturday, June 17, 2017

17F-1, "Etude, op. 341d, (Concave)" (June14)

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Build number: 17F-1 (lifetime start #343); monolith on low riser
Title: "Etude, op. 341d, (Concave)"
Date: June 14
Location: Venice Breakwater, isthmus
Start: 0730, construction time approx. 5.5 hours
Size: about 41 inches tall, 21 inches diameter
Technique: Latchform, Box Filter 2, five loads intertidal sand, immersion screened
Digital Images: 23, EOS-5D Mk IV and 24-70 F/2.8 L II, with RRS monopod
New Tools: none
New Equipment: Filter Trivet

Sunday, January 8, 2017

17P-1, "Etude, op. 341c, (Drummer Boy's Mussel Shell)" (January 8)

Elemental Considerations

Within a year, fall 1995 through fall of 1996, my sand sculpture capability changed completely. Tools, forms and working technique were all new. Working style, however, stayed the same. Go to the beach, make a pile, start carving. I'd often go in with some kind of idea but it seldom lasted long. When the idea did manage to center the sculpture I often didn't like it.

The result was unpredictability. Some sculptures were special, some weren't, and I couldn't describe to anyone what I did, or didn't, like about a particular piece. The headlong rush to get a sculpture done didn't lead to careful consideration, and the pattern stayed the same through the ensuing years.

It's not a bad way of working. It's enjoyable, and when there's a hit it tends to be spectacular. At the time time there end up being many default shapes in a sculpture, as the design crowds the remaining sand and leaves no other options.

There were pauses for various reasons. In late November of 2016 I began to get a hazy notion of something else. Simplify. I'd been looking at old sculptures as I edited images to use in Second Life. Why does one thing work and another design idea doesn't work? Could it be the relationship between elements? Maybe I need to make a very simple sculpture, just to see how the surfaces relate. It turned into a series of 3 sculptures, and then the weather closed out the rest of the year.
Build number: 17P-1 (monolith)
Title: "Etude, op. 341c (Drummer Boy's Mussel Shell)"
Date: January 8
Location: Venice Breakwater, south side littoral
Start: 1030, construction time approx. 1.5 hours
Size: about 24 inches tall, 18 inches wide, 14 inches deep
Digital Images: none, no camera
New Tools: none
New Equipment: none

I'd walked to the Breakwater on Friday, the day the tide window opened, to sample the sand, with a sculpture intended for Saturday. The sky held only high wispy clouds. Saturday morning I awoke to rain and dark clouds. By mid-day it was clearing so I went for a rain-refreshed walk. The window would stay open for a few more days, so I  headed for the Breakwater again to see how the sand had fared through the storm.

Off in the west, rising above the horizon, were layers of cloud. More rain? I ran into Dennis and his wife at the Breakwater, and they confirmed it. "Heavy rain, starting here about midnight. Supposed to end by 6:00 AM, they say."

Well, rats. Another washout. A window opened after Christmas, and the present of rain was nice but made sculpture impossible. I had to hold onto the ideas for a simple piece with intersecting spaces.

I haven't done a free-piled sculpture since 2013. The idea didn't occur to me on last Friday's sampling walk. Today, something brings the idea to the fore. Sand, sun, receding tide, wet beach with good sand. I'm not dressed for it and have no tools. Not far away, though, is a mussel shell nicely sized for basic carving. I dig in and start piling.

No matter how it's done, sand sculpture requires heavy work. Using a form spreads the work out through time. Free-piling must be done quickly and calls for a lot of bending and twisting. I wondered if I could still do it. There were some twinges in my back as I gradually built the pile up. I compensated by taking smaller handfuls of sand, and making a pile that was only about two feet tall.

As I carved with the gift mussel shell, I realized that this pile was better packed than any of the formed sculptures I did in the 1980s. Those, I could carve with fingers. This one really needs the mussel shell, although I do push one space through with fingers. I miss the small carving tools; what's easy and quick with them is nearly impossible with the shell.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. By limiting the complexity of the sculpture, the mussel shell makes me think about the larger piece. I smoothly round the western part, with a concave area lower down on the north. The west gets a nearly flat panel whose edges are rounded into the top. I like the look of that.

When a space is cut into a flat surface, it appears as a hole in the surface. It can be shaped in ways to fit. A space carved into a curved surface  is different. it's visible from the side as an under cut whose size is dictated by the hole's size. The line between "hole" and "space" is fine. Some of the holes in this sculpture turn into spaces. It's surprisingly difficult to balance the parts.

I'm also interested in how spaces intersect inside the sculpture. I'm frustrated in working on this because, with the mussel shell and my hand in the way, I can't see how the various surfaces intersect inside.

Still, there's enough here to show that there's room for the ideas to grow. More experimentation is needed. I polish the surface, sign it, and leave the mussel shells on the signature pad.

As I walk north the air cools. The clouds to the west are closer but no thicker. I have made sand sculpture pretty much because I can, and have taken little thought on how the carving happens. Art classes start with the basics and work up from there. I had to invent the basics and all the rest. I assumed that when I needed a skill it would be there, or I'd figure it out in the moment, which seemed a more lively way to do it. Excess discipline tends to kill things.

There is, however, the idea of just enough discipline. Everybody who makes things starts somewhere in the learning process. It feels slow and confining to look at a pile of sand and think about shapes, rather than picking up a tool and carving. The big problem with that approach is that the size of the sculpture, dictated by how much sand I can pile in a day, works with the  size of my hands, the length of my arms, and how far I can reach, along with the fact that I'm mainly right-handed, exerts a very strong influence on the shapes I end up making. Once a shape is cut into the sand it is permanent. Slowing down and being more observant might help me stay out of the default-shape traps. Winter also enforces simplicity because the days are short. Carpenters have a saying: "Measure twice, cut once. Measure once, cut twice." This series of etudes is an ongoing experiment in measuring two or three times. Perhaps... meditative sand sculpture. Part of me is disappointed with the simplicity, and that I did fall into one default-shape trap on this one. Other parts of the sculpture show more promise.

The next morning I awaken to steady rain. It continues well beyond the predicted 0600 cut-off. I'm glad I did the year's first sculpture when the chance came along.

Santa Monica
2017 January 8, 9