Friday, May 30, 2008

More About Simple and Fast

In my last post I was talking about using modelling clay as a fast and easy mold material. Here are a couple of "IDEA" pins from a series I have been working on, for a show at Shaw Jewelry Gallery. The exhibition is called "Set in Concrete" and will be the work of six jewelers who all make jewelry in concrete. It will be on July 3 to 16, in Northeast Harbor, Maine.

For this series, I used rubber letter stamps impressed in a hard modelling clay, then pressed a softer clay into that. Then I pulled the soft clay off, distorted it, sliced it up and reassembled it so it was skewed, then cast a fine concrete mix into that mold. In the one pin you can just make out little pieces of clay imbedded in the folds. In the black one I applied gold leaf to the recessed letters. The pin backs are two tie tacs (not shown). They are fusion welded onto thin bronze strips that are cast just below the back surface.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Keep It Simple

In my own work, I try to keep things as simple as possible. With a material like concrete (or even clay or metal) it's really easy to get bogged down in the details, the additives, temperatures, tensile strengths and so on. It's not that these details aren't important, but you don't want to lose sight of the fact that creating something, expressing something, making art - these are the reasons you are using that particular material.

As an antidote to that technological bog, I often use modelling clay as a quick mold. I use Plasticene®, but any oil-based modelling clay works. You can work directly in the material with rubber stamps, carving tools, or even your fingers. It's a relaxing creative process with no worries about making mistakes - just roll out some more and try again. I work with two hardnesses of modelling clay. For example, if I wanted letters to be raised on the surface of a final concrete piece, I would use rubber stamp letters (like the kind you find in children's printing sets) pressed into a flat sheet of the harder Plasticene, dust it with talcum powder, then press the softer clay into that mold. When pulled apart, this softer clay now becomes the mold for the final concrete. You have to be careful placing the concrete into the soft mold as the surface is easily marred.

In this concrete pin, I created a simple mold from modelling clay, by pressing a ridged form into the soft clay, texturing the negative space with lines, then cast concrete into it. Later I applied gold leaf.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Concrete Reveries by Mark Kingwell

Mark Kingwell, cultural theorist and University of Toronto philosophy professor, has just published a new book called Concrete Reveries. Although it is not really about concrete, it sounds like an interesting read – dealing with the ideas of cities as creative works in progress. I heard Kingwell speak at a lecture at Harbourfront in Toronto recently, and he has a unique yet understandable way of helping you see large issues. He uses "the urban experience to illustrate the dynamic between concreteness and abstraction that operates within us," says the publisher, Penguin Group Canada.

"Any material becomes the sum of its treatments," Kingwell says in the introduction to the book. I think this is particularly true of concrete.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

New 'Green' Fibres for Concrete

For those interested in reinforcing fibers for concrete (these are the chopped strands that help prevent shrinkage cracks and on small scale work help increase tensile strength), there's a new fiber making process from Nycon. They are using post consumer carpets (that translates as old carpets that are about to be thrown away) remade into polypropylene or nylon fibers for added strength in your concrete mix. Old carpets are a huge landfill problem, so this is a great solution.

The new fibers are called Nycon-G. From a recent news release:
"Available in both nylon and polypropylene blends, Nycon-G fibers represent a break-through in green building technology. They are the only fibers on the market today that have no net negative impact on the environment."

I've recommended using fibers as a concrete additive both on the Art Concrete website and my own book, Concrete Handbook for Artists. I particularly like PVA (poly vinyl alcohol) fibers, although these are not part of this green initiative.