Thursday, 11 July 2013

New Toy & Green Man/Woman Sculpture

It's been a bit of catch up since the last Expo and class, mostly I've been getting my head down and making new pendants and marbles for the stall. Hopefully they'll be some new marbles trickling through into my Etsy shop again in the next few weeks as well.

However I still want to try and make time to keep practising and improving my sculptural techniques. For a while I've quite fancied a hand torch, something that can go to really fine pin-point flame to tweak and work on details. Of course I couldn't quite justify the expense, it's not just the torch but all the new pipes and connectors too, plus I couldn't decide which one would be best for me. After chatting about hand torches during the course, and then seeing a cool photo of an American artist standing before a three foot sculpture he was assembling with a hand torch, I looked a little harder and came up with a Smiths Mini Torch at a bargain price.

New Little Torch
Although really made for metal work, it's quite popular with some glass artists. Although the flame really is tiny, it's nice and compact, has a tight hot flame, and best of all comes with it's own light and small hoses already attached. The hoses were the clincher, not only did it save an extra expense of new hoses, I didn't fancy having to hold a torch being dragged down by the normal heavy propane hoses.

Work in Progress, glass leaves being added using a plaster former
It's taken a few weeks now before I've had time to play with it though, apart from playing catch up I'm just confirming a very large commission which will keep me busy for weeks (holding breath and touching wood that it comes off, more on that when it's all confirmed!) However there has been an idea that's been kicking around in my head for a while, and this seemed the ideal tool for the job!

These are some 'work in progress' pictures, of a Green Woman mask that I've been making using the little torch to assemble the leaves which I made using my Lynx torch.
Top view of the mask removed from the former, with a leaf beside it

Off the former, this needs to be annealed before I carry on. One of the 'blank' leaves loose beside it
Little torch with it's tiny flame next to my Lynx running a fairy small flame

Before starting on this I've been wondering how to put the leaves together to make a good 3D shape. I figured a former would be the way to go, but I certainly couldn't afford a custom graphite shape in this size. Bellow is a quick run down on how I put this together, using plaster and mod-roc (basically bandages impregnated with plaster-of-paris, which many model shops stock for making hills and mountains on train sets etc.) For the mould I used the packaging from a paint your own mask kit from my local 99p shop! I was going to use the mask, but the plastic blister pack it came in was ideal as I didn't have to plug up the eyes and mouth cut outs, and it was waterproof!

Mask mould, I left the mask underneath to add some support and strength to the mould
This is my first real go with the torch, and it's quite a liberating way of working, although I could really do with a safe stand where I can leave it when lit if I need both hands free. It's a bit temperamental to light and keep lit until the gases have settled down. I found that I can even use a thin stringer to help 'weld' or 'solder' two parts together, and that if I get really close it's fierce enough to even 'push' the glass. I certainly need a bit more practise with it, maybe once I get time to finish this mask off I'll have a go at another once, with coloured leaves this time. It certainly opens up some interesting ideas and new ways of working.

Bellow is a quick run down of how I made the plaster blank, for anyone who wants to try something similar. Do use the torch on this at your own risk though, this is an experimental technique, and the plaster and modroc WILL get burnt as you work!
First layer, I used plaster and quartz (equal parts) which is a formula usually used for making kiln casting moulds. I hoped it would provide better heat tolerance for the 'working area' of the cast

Mod-roc, cut into strips and rough squares. Just pass this through a tray of water to moisten and then slap it on!
After adding some more plaster I started building up the sides with modroc and re-enforcing the main part of the cast with the modroc

Add more plaster before the last has set in the hope it all sticks together well!

Alternating now with layers of plaster and modroc, this adds both lightness and some structural strength

It's really easy to smooth out the modroc with a fingertip, be careful not to get it too damp though

Top up to the top, and smooth over so it will lie flat when de-moulded. It's a working cast and this bit isn't going to be seen so no need to make too much of a fuss of neatness.

Broken chin! I made the quartz/plaster layer a bit too thin, and then didn't push the modroc down enough so had a void under the chin which then flaked off. You learn by mistakes!
The finished cast. Now leave to dry, I left this near (but not on) my kiln for about two weeks to make sure it was fully dried.



  1. Great torch by the look of it, and great idea Glen! Looks like it will be a fantastic project, reminds me of the Venetian carnival masks! I have looked at the Smith little torch as well but cannot justify one at the moment, still learning/teaching myself sculpture at the moment. but good luck hope it goes well