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Ways of Working
"Now, where is that thing?" Mental capability tracks the descending sun as I paw through the Tool Tray's contents in search of the one I want. Eventually I find it but the search is soon repeated when the sculpture's needs change. When I had two carving tools, this kind of thing didn't happen.
Early sculptures felt miraculous. Physical objects came out of my imagination through my fingertips. The main question was "What is possible?" and the only overall concept was sand wrapped around space. It was new and it was mine.
Art classes in school seemed to emphasize following paths that had already been defined. That was very much like what I learned at home. Sand sculpture showed that I still wanted to make things, and had the ability. Is this art? That question wasn't relevant to my interest.
Given enough room I can amble my wandering way through things. When crowded I tend to blend my course with those of whoever is around me; calling attention to myself is a bad thing. Even if the pressure is benign, it's still a push away from finding my own way. Sand sculpture came to be defined as art, with all the concepts attendant upon that.
It's a terrible load to place onto an arch made of sand. I can't return to those simple and innocent days of 1984, when my whole kit could be carried in two hands from car to beach and I had no more idea of what I'd make than a bee does of which flower to visit at dawn. Technically I have advanced far from those days. Tools designed and made for the purpose enable careful carving of sand that is chosen and packed with much experience. Design is a different issue. Assumptions, many of them unconsidered, underlie choices.
What is a sculpture? Space and material in balance, I think, and there are many ways to accomplish that. Historically I've usually ended up with a sculpture that only by chance has some kind of balance that pleases me. It's as if there are many horses in the barn, saddled and ready to run. I try to ride them all. Sometimes the resulting sculpture is an interesting amalgam, with an occasional spectacular standout. The alternative, a more closely managed sculpture, has a disappointing design-by-committee look to it.
I feel a need to examine more closely some of the basic ideas. I don't know how to do that. Will the attempt be an insult to whatever part of me enjoys working out design on the fly?
Build number: 16F-7 (lifetime start #342); monolith on low riser
Title: "Etude, op. 341b (Surfaces Considered)"
Date: December 9
Location: Venice Breakwater, isthmus
Start: 0900, construction time approx. 5.5 hours
Size: about 41 inches tall, 21 inches diameter, immersion screened intertidal sand (5 loads, Latchform, Rectascreenus B, Waterscreen)
Digital Images: 21, EOS-70D with 50mm F/2.5 macro, construction and site, completed, builder by passerby
New Tools: none
New Equipment: Small Tool Tray
"It seems so simple, to be produced in a shop of such great sophistication." This is about the time the growing grey kitten--more a young cat, now--takes a flying leap onto my sandal-clad left foot. "Oh, I'm vanquished! Mighty hunter!" Message delivered, he struts away. In my hand I hold a small and lightweight wooden tray.
"Some of your problems are, after all, simple. You lose small tools among the others in the standard tool tray. Some thought reveals the potential benefits to be had from spreading tools out. Floor space, if you will. You're holding more floor space. Q.E.D.
"It's a pretty little thing."
"Thank you. And note that it has some non-obvious design sophistication. Its width fits inside the top rails of the Portable Table. I figure space is getting a little tight inside the cart."
"I'll have to check, but I think you're right. There needs to be room yet for the shovel and tamper."
"The thought has come to my mind..." The toolmaker stares off into space as the paws-tucked-up relaxing grey cat smugly watches. "...you know, this was all an experiment. It has grown piece by piece. No plan."
"Responding to one need suggests other solutions."
"Yes. And you have this kind of piecemeal approach that may become overly complicated in use. So, let me know how this works. Perhaps we can simplify it, now that we know more about the parameters of the situation."
"The new cart has made other new things possible. This is a good thing, as is anything else that reduces the workload." I sigh. "Sand sculpture was a lot easier 32 years ago. The first cart, 16 years ago, was more of a luxury item. The new one is simply essential; I would not be able to make a sculpture without it." I remember all those trips with two full buckets of sand carried by hand, and shudder.
"Well, try it out and let me know."
It's really quite neat. The small tray fits underneath the table parts, hardly noticeable. The shovel and tamper go on top with their ends projecting from the other end of the cart. The form goes on top with the buckets and other items inside it. Balanced over the wheels it's an easy load to tow until there's a hill involved; cart-based sculpture is no longer minimalist.
So far, the trade-offs have been in favor of more equipment. Yes, I have to get it to the beach, which is some extra work, but the actual work of making a sculpture is simplified. Some tools haven't made the grade and are now left behind. The ones with me have proven their worth. Rapid change doesn't allow time for things to settle in. I need practice.
Hidden inside the other considerations is the motivation. Why sculpt? For whom, actually, do I made these? Who is expressed in them? Whoever they are, do they really want to be expressed? I think the answer to that last is "Yes," but it's not unanimous. It's not something I have looked into closely. That era seems to be over. The Brothers-in-Fur have become very restive inside their fort of assumptions.
Spread out on the beach where I'm ready to start work, it looks like a lot of stuff. Amazing that it all fits on one cart.
The surf is very low today. One result is that the zone of damp sand is lower than I want to be, so I build the base in the dry zone to get far enough away from the breakwater. Another result becomes apparent when I start picking up sand and find a broad expanse of fine and clean sand. It's the best sand I've had in a long time. I haul five loads to the sculpture site and dump them onto the tarp.
I smack the Rectascreenus B with my hand to knock off the loose sand, and am bitten. Wear though the years has rubbed off the MS Polymer that covered the wire mesh edges. It's now dangerous to use. The Box Filter's design, with aluminum strips to cover the mesh, works better. The Rectascreenus was also designed to a different set of assumptions and is bigger than it needs to be for current practice. I'm sure my tool-making friend will be happy to hear about that. I'll just have to be more careful today.
Four loads were good for about 37 inches in the form. Five get me as close to the top as is practical. It's the tallest sculpture I've made in years. With the form peeled off, it's imposing and solid.
Early sculptures were composed around spaces, at least as much as could be done with the technique of the time. Many of them fell apart. The 1996 Small Sculpture Revolution enabled, and was enabled by, better sand selection and compaction. This well packed fine sand led to explorations of surfaces that could be subtly polished. How big does a surface need to be in order to express its surface nature? What about concave surfaces? Where does space end and surface begin? That's what I want to explore today, and it starts with a long curve from top to bottom.
There is plenty of time. I started at 0900. Even if a 64-year-old doesn't pack sand as fast as a 44-year-old, the job gets done and there's the afternoon ahead. This allows me to cut, trim, and then step back to take a look. Then I consider how the sculpture's other areas might fit with this established part and come into harmony.
It does take some effort to restrain myself. Broad surfaces invite decoration. Today's experiment is to leave it alone and look into how the surfaces meet and work with some concavities. This hadn't worked out very well in the previous sculpture, so it wants a closer look.
Start small, then expand the cut into apparent balance. A concavity near the bottom serves as a contrast to the long convex surface, and there's a nascent concavity on the other side to which it might connect.
Yet a concavity-with-a-hole-in-it ends up looking like a concavity with a hole it it. It does nothing for the design. How do I address that? The one near the top becomes more of a bubble defined by various edges that are gradually trimmed into shape. The lower concavity turns into two gently curve surfaces that meet and then open up into light. Surfaces, or legs to hold up the rest? They can be seen as either.
There's another concave area on the western side. Currently it's not doing much. I step back, look, and think about it. I feel the surfaces. Light and dark serve as contrast. I cut it through to the opposite loser concavity, and then shape the edges of this space.
The whole sculpture is an expression of restraint. It could have been much more complex; the sand would have supported it but that's not the way I, for whatever value of "I" is currently managing things, want it to go. I've made too many sculptures that were complicated for the sake of complication. Just because I can doesn't mean I need to.
The resulting sculpture, after it has been cleaned up, has a very odd effect upon me. I'm angry, but I also like it. It seems a commonplace throwaway while also being simply revolutionary. I just don't know what to think about it, nor even how to think about it. It engenders conflict.
Well, it is pretty. A nice harmony, with points of interest and shapes that invite the eye to follow them around. The smooth convex surfaces end in interesting ways, sharp edges providing definition and balance. Does any of that intellectual analysis matter? I like looking at it, even as its simplicity disappoints me.
It's hard to start a new way after years of experience. The argument continues on the way home and even after I go to bed. Being a beginner is the only way to learn new things. Being a beginner invites unwanted advice from experts. Advice, however, doesn't have to be destructive. I think about Jane and her painting classes that set assignments in new areas. She is sometimes frustrated by these.
Well, OK. Let's allow the conflict. Do we have to have unanimity in decisions? Yes, it's a great deal of effort. We can still come down and make another, try other ideas. We have a pretty good idea of what things don't work, but no real idea of why they don't. Maybe we need to spend some time with more basic concepts in design.
Today we learned that time taken in looking at things helps in shaping them to fit. Complexity means spending less time on any particular sculptural element; if these fit, fine, but if they don't there's no correction possible and no time for correction anyway. The day of the 12-hour sculpture has probably passed, and not just because Rich isn't there with cookies. This sculpture's relatively few elements allowed time to look at them and refine their fit.
The result could be called deceptively simple. Restraint turns out to be hard. I head for home, trying not to stagger under the onslaught of noise from the Boardwalk.
"Here. Have a cookie. You look like you need one. A friend here just brought them by."
"Thank you. Yes, I'm done in." The young cat remains on his shelf, seeming to realize I have no play in me.
"How did it work out in the real sandy world?"
"The Small Tool Tray is wonderful, when it's in the right place. Having the extra floor space keeps all tools visible and easy to choose."
"Yeah. Now I have to remember to drag both tool trays around with me as I move, and I often didn't. So, I'd have to go fetch it or walk to it when I wanted to put down a tool. Not a big deal, but a low-level irritant."
"Kind of what we thought."
"Yes. It might not be a problem, however. I divided the tools between the trays by size. Logical, yes, but perhaps a better scheme would be to have frequently used tools in the small one, with the big one holding the rest. Then I'd just move the small one. Trips for the other tray would be less frequent. I think I'm babbling."
"Have another cookie. And some water. And I like that latter idea, so long as the frequently used tools fit in the small tray."
"Thanks. I think they will. I'll check when my brain comes back. Oh... there is one more thing. Remember the Quick Filter and its relatives?"
"Yes. The Rectascreenus with stainless mesh is the only one you still use, I believe."
"Yes. It bites me now. The MS polymer has worn off and left bare wire ends See the scratches and dings in my hands... and leg where I rest it on the way into the form? It's only going to get worse."
"Interesting. The polymer held up well, I think."
"I agree. The aluminum strips on the Box Filter hold up better. What I'd like is a new screen using the stainless mesh, for those days when there's too much coarse sand admixed. It can be smaller, though. Shorter, because I don't use the Tall Form any more (it would kill me) and smaller footprint because I don't shovel sand directly in."
"All right. That should be straightforward. Let me think about designs."
"That's fine. No hurry, because the Box Filter is in good shape and kind to my hands."
"Great. I'll let you know. I prescribe going home and getting some sleep."
2016 December 10
Toolmaker: Small Tool Tray, impending Rectascreenus retirement