It’s finally in place

“I don’t want to put up my sculpture in the rain,” I moaned to fellow finalist Paul Tuppeny as we drove down to Broomhill. My parents retired to North Devon and I know from long experience that once it starts to rain, it tends to continue, certainly for hours, sometimes for days.  That is the reason that everything is so green and so lush. When we arrived at Broomhill it was both unbelievably wet and also quite incredibly beautiful;  whilst I myself was soon to  get very wet indeed, in practice it didn’t matter at all and, as it was quite warm rain, it actually became quite fun.

The site Rinus, the Broomhill owner,  had chosen for Flightpaths was absolutely perfect, sheltered and with enough space for the sculpture to breathe.  It was fantastic finally to be able to fit the pieces together. At home I had only partly assembled it because I was very conscious that I had to get it apart again to transport it and, as some of the fittings were very tight, I was afraid that it might become stuck.

Of course the assembly wasn’t completely smooth sailing. The rods are fitted into a series of holders and held in place by tiny grub screws – tiny grub screws which can go missing at crucial moments, as can allen keys, only to reappear just out of reach.

DSC03052 (2) Also I had envisaged that the work would appear to come out of the ground,but in place it became clear that it needed to be higher and Rinus suggested putting it on a small plinth; many thanks to Paul, different Paul, the one who works there, for making one.

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At last the work was in place and it was extraordinarily satisfying to see it there. What was magic was when the sun came out the next day and it appeared to glow as I hoped it would.DSC03038

I was also pleased with the way that rods acted together to create a lens effect.

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Being a Broomhill finalist was inevitably stressful; certainly I was not the only one to find it so; but it was also an extraordinarily special experience. The place is packed with so many amazing sculptures. It is such as honour to be part of it. It was great to meet other finalists and to talk to Rinus and Aniet who are so knowledgeable about art. So thank you to everybody at Broomhill; if you are reading this blog, and have yet to go there, I do hope you visit and see it for yourselves.



The final stretch

There are only a few days left before we are due to assemble the sculptures at Broomhill. It has been quite a tense period. The stand which will support the rods has been somewhat problematic.  I had originally thought I might be able to secure the rods to the stand  with pipe clamps but became concerned that this would not be strong enough to stand up to wind and that also the rods themselves could swivel.DSC03020I came up with a solution which I think is quite neat and be a lot more robust but required Laurence who has been doing my welding to do quite a bit more work. (Thank you Laurence) The rods will now be fitted through small pieces of pipe that are welded to the stand and secured with a grub screw; this means that in theory at least the whole sculpture can be assembled and disassembled.

That is how it is supposed to work and indeed I was able to get the whole thing in my car to get it back to my house for the final finishing. Theory is one thing and practice another. There are some changes that are yet to be made which may affect the portability. The rods are only partially bent; I will complete the shaping with a hot air gun once I have them in place. So the crucial question is will they still fit in the car once that has been done or will some of them need to be stay fixed to the stand?

Fellow finalist, Paul Tuppany, who I know from my time doing an MA at Brighton, and I have been discussing the transport question, along with reassuring each other that all problems will be overcome and that everything will all right in the end. We hope we can share a van and the driving but for that to work I need to be able to get the various bits over to Brighton. Even more important I have got to have the bits that need to be painted, actually painted and transportable by Wednesday night as Paul would like to leave first thing on Thursday morning. We have agreed to have another discussion Monday evening once it is all a bit more advanced. ‘It will be finished; it will be fine’, I keep telling myself, but it would be nice if were all not quite so close to the line.





Cooking acrylic

To my huge relief I have all the rods satisfactorily bent at one end. The other end is, for the moment, straight, for until I have decided precisely how to fit them together I want to leave it possible to slide the rods into supporting tubes. A bend could make that difficult. The whole operation was much easier than I had feared. In my last post I explained how I enlisted the help of Laurence Poole who I knew from my days at Sussex Coast College. We had worked out that we could post the rods down the chimney of his kiln. It worked like a dream.

My experiment in the domestic cooker the day before had suggested that the best temperature would be 200 C. We covered up the base of the kiln with aluminium foil, heated it up to that level, tried first five minutes, then seven before discovering that for the medium sized 25m rods, nine minutes was exactly right. At that temperature and for that time they bent easily with a little pressure but were not so sloppy as to become unmanageable. The wider 30m ones needed ten minutes; the narrower 19m ones only five. We soon got a conveyor belt system going, Laurence, on a ladder at the top of the kiln, put the rods in and started the stopwatch. When the time was up, he passed the hot rod to me; I bent it; he put in the next and put the stopwatch back to zero.


An unexpected plus was that I also discovered that although more time consuming,  my hot air gun was strong enough to bend at least the narrower ones. I managed to do it without the acrylic melting or showing blisters. This provides the option of making some last-minute adjustments after the work has been put together.


So here they are cooling off. It was really exciting to see them gleam in the light and reflect off each other. The next step is attaching them together and to a stand. The ladder proved a useful prop to test out the ideas I had about the angle and size the stand should be.

I am now off to Greece for two weeks where I have an exhibition; my welding skills are rudimentary, so Laurence is kindly attaching the arms of the stand to metal plate; we resume when I get back.

The first bend

Nothing is ever quite as simple as you hope. Flightpaths comprises some 15, or maybe 18, clear and coloured acrylic rods which need to be bent. I ordered twenty as I thought I should have some spare.  When they finally arrived yesterday and I opened the pack, seven of the coloured rods turned out to be tubes, which are no use at all as bending them would just cause them to collapse. My supplier is currently trying to get the order  sorted out .

Before that I spent time considering different ways to make the stand and investigating bending options. When I made the maquette I used a hot air gun but that is not so effective on thicker diameters. I had thought I might use a fabricator and had one lined up when I put in my application. He had a three metre oven which would have allowed the rods to be bent easily, so I thought I was covered but things unravelled.  It turned out he was unwilling to allow me to be present during the process and I was unwilling to hand over the operation completely, so it was deadlock.

Then somebody suggested Lawrence;  he was in the year below me when I was doing my FDA at Sussex Coast College. He now has a well equipped workshop/studio with a large kiln. It isn’t big enough to  take the whole rod but I reckoned we could bend first one end and then the other. But it turns out kilns only heat up when the door is fastened so that looked like a no go. Then Lawrence thought of the chimney. The thickest of the rods is 30mm and the kiln has two chimneys which are quite a bit wider so we should be able to dangle them into the kiln and keep the temperature constant. How inventive is that? We booked in next  Saturday as bending day.

Meanwhile, the rods stacked in the corner have been too tempting to leave alone. I saw on You Tube that someone had managed to make an acrylic walking stick  in a domestic oven so I thought I would give it a go. I read that acrylic does not stick to aluminium foil so I covered a baking tray with that, took out all the oven shelves and wrapped foil around the rod. Then by propping it against the microwave and by supporting one end with the cord from a blind, I managed to get it to lean at an angle in the oven. I turned the oven to  fan assisted at 250C and tied up the oven door. It was all very Heath Robinson. For about 15 minutes I rotated the rod at intervals. DSC02850

But it worked. Here is my very first bend. DSC02857

I am now looking forward to Saturday.

Turning the maquette into reality

It’s something like 52 days before we are due to set up our sculptures. It’s exciting but like some of the others here I am also finding it stressful. Flightpaths is made of two parts: shaped acrylic rods and a supporting stand. It is the stand which is currently giving me a headache; if it is to be made of metal it needs to be translated into a precise specification. If it is to be made of acrylic sheet, I need to be sure it will support the weight.

There is also an issue about whether to bend the rods myself which I would prefer to do  or use a fabricator. Bending the rods for the maquette was easy with a heat gun but when you scale up, the acrylic is so much thicker that it is difficult to get the material to heat evenly. So with a belt and braces approach, I am talking to fabricators at the same time as considering ways to build a temporary oven in the back garden.DSC02686 (2)

I complained to my daughter that it was all rather worrying. She pointed me to the following scene from Shakespeare in Love

Philip Henslowe:Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?

Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

Hugh Fennyman: How?

Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Here’s to hoping that it is the same in the art business.