Between major sculpting projects I like recharging by trying different artistic mediums. One activity was to enroll in a wheel pottery class with my daughter Ashley. It has been many years since my last wheel class but it didn't take too many reminders to recall throwing techniques.
I created two lidded vessels to replace the chipped sugar bowl that Pam and I now use. Experience has revealed that we tend to drop and break sugar bowl and lids so creating a spare seemed prudent.
Ashley helped me select glazes which explains why Purple Spec, her favourite shows up in many single and double glazed pieces.
I decided to try acrylic painting to get some of the many images in my head onto pictures. Past experience with oils proved difficult, but that's no reason to not try acrylics. Using a picture by Ryan Price for reference I created this Exciting Hair painting.
Simple paintings with dramatic curves such as those by Benjamin Chee Chee have always appealed to me. I flipped though my sketch book and found an interesting bird that I drew with coloured pens a few years ago at the cottage. Using it as a guide I painted the bird then went away and came back many times to revise it. The original colours were too harsh and the background too boring. In it's present state, part of me wants to add yellow to the centre area and part of me wants to leave it as is. At risk of ruining the painting, I decided to stop.
It was wonderful for me to see the familiar faces of people who helped build the sculpture at the unveiling. There were also many other interested people present: families, library staff, patrons, Board Members and Jessica Lovell from the Tribune. The fact that Robert Munsch joined us made the event extra special.
It started with an introduction by Kitty Pope discussing the importance of Robert Munsch to our community and how this sculpture project started. I told the story of how the sculpture was built which was actually a five minute summary of my many blog posts with focus on personal experiences. Then came the big moment. I carefully unwrapped the sculpture and stepped back proudly. Everyone clapped. I beamed. Jennifer Mackie, Chair of the Library Board thanked me and the many people who helped with the sculpture.
The many participants took turns posing with the Paper Bag Princess sculpture for pictures, photographing their own special memories. Some are shown below but many more were captured.
This project was such a pleasure that I look forward to having the volunteer artists work with me again on future projects.
Closing quote: "When this project started, it involved building a tribute to Robert Munsch. But, as I talked with the people building the princess, I realized we were building memories. When I saw the sparkle in their eyes as they smoothed the clay with their fingertips I realized we were also inspiring young artists. Listening to the chatter of strangers as they worked together I discovered that we were also building community. Building the Paper Bag Princess was much more than building a sculpture, it was about building pride, memories, artists, and strengthening our community.”
Leaving the Sculpture Attached to the Base - Throughout the project I have discussed progress and plans with my wife Pam during our morning coffee. When I told her about removing the sculpture from its base in preparation for the move to the library she reminded me that the GYMC sculpture called Celebration had the arm cracked during an incident when removed it from the base. To keep the Princess safe, it would be best to leave her attached to the upper base. It would be heavy and awkward to move, but that was the best option.
Installing Slate Tiles - Since I have no experience installing slate tiles I referenced You Tube for guidance. A quick trip to Canadian Tire was needed to buy some tools then I mixed the mortar, spread it over the wood base pieces and applied the slate tiles.
Sealing the Sculpture and the Slate Tiles - One of the tips I learned on You Tube was that slate was so porous that it needed to be sealed before grouting or it would suck the water out of the grout making it difficult to apply. Using disposable paint brushes I painted sealer to the top of the crown then worked my way down the sculpture, over the hair, face, arms, bag, legs and feet. Once satisfied that all runs and drips were fixed and all loose brush hairs plucked off the sculpture I sealed the slate tiles too.
Applying Grout - The next day I mixed some grout which was charcoal in colour and thought that this was a high risk activity, not a risk to the sculpture, but a risk to our house. If I spilled the dark grout anywhere it would create a terrible mess and be very difficult to clean up. Utmost care was needed and no accidents were allowed. Using a floating tool I pressed grout into the grooves between tiles and scrapped of any excess. I wiped the tiles with a large wet sponge, wrung it out in a pail of water then repeated until the water in the pail was filthy. Carefully I carried the pail from the studio which was upstairs in our home, down to the basement where I dumped it into the laundry tub, rinsed it out, refilled it with clean water then headed back upstairs. It took about five trips of washing and dumping to wash the excess grout off the slate tiles. The studio floor suffered a few charcoal splash drops but fortunately there was no spill crisis. I ran out of grout when only two thirds of the grooves were filled. I was tired and my back was fatigued and I knew that if I mixed another batch of grout there was a good chance of me spilling so I opted to wait and finish the following day.
One Last Polish - By rubbing an old cloth on the tiles I removed the faint residue of grout and made the slate shine again. I thought about resealing the base to make the grout shiny too but decided that the contrasting sheens gave the base more texture.
Photos of the Finished Sculpture - I took some photographs of the Princess, walking around the sculpture to get all angles and noticed in the one picture that it looked like the scale model sculpture was waving goodbye to the life size sculpture. How cute.
Bronze Cast Quote - Winterstone was strong but the Paper Bag Princess' arms were so thin that there was a risk of being broken during an accident. As a backup plan I sent pictures to get a quote of how much it would cost to make a bronze cast. My worst case scenario was that if the sculpture got broken, I could patch her back together temporarily and have a bronze cast made for the library. The quote came back at $13,000. Wow! My addendum to the backup plan was to have someone fundraising to pay for the bronze cast if needed.
Moving to the Library - The library set up Mike Brimblecombe from Lightning Delivery to move the sculpture from the studio to the library. (I had not seen Mike in years but recognized the name from playing high school football together. In fact we knew each other from being in the same class long before high school.) He was willing to do the work but expressed concern that it might get damaged during the bumpy ride in the back of his truck. That evening I went into my basement, found some Styrofoam sheets, cut them to size and taped them to the sculpture. As long as we positioned her back to the truck wall, used straps to secure her in place and tucked blankets in where needed I was confident that the Paper bag Princess would survive the journey.
On moving day Mike and his son carried the heavy pieces into his truck, secured them in place and drove to the library. I followed behind in my car.
Kitty, Lisa and many other library staff guided us to the Paper Bag Princess' new home on the second floor of the downtown library. We put her in place then wrapped a large sheet around her to hide her until the unveiling.
Commemorative Plate - I bought a brass plate from Champion's Choice and when I picked it up, asked them to place a couple more sticky strips to the back to keep it securely attached to the slate tiles. I knew that they would have to endure cleaning, bumping and possible picking for years. On my way home I stuck it to the base in front of the princess. I stood back and paused while thinking, "My time with you is almost over. Thanks for sharing this incredible adventure with me."
I went over the entire sculpture a few final times touching up details. Each time I discovered new defects and realized that this art project had entered the "Eternal Tinkering Phase" where I was at risk of being consumed by tiny issues that were not important and that could delay its completion. I said to my self, "That's it. Call it done and stop making adjustments." In fact, I said it out loud so that I would hear myself.
The next day I approached the sculpture with a different attitude. The sculpture was truly done in my mind and I could focus on finishing the base but first I wanted to make sure that the princess could be removed for transportation to the library. I had to make sure that the threaded rods coming out of the princess' feet had not become stuck to the base by WInterstone. Kneeling on the floor, I carefully dragged the upper base with the sculpture attached to the edge of the lower base, wriggled my fingers underneath and lifted up one side of the upper base. The sculpture swung to an angle. My heart skipped a beat. I froze in place to evaluate the situation. Carefully I tipped the base down slightly to find the balance point, slid my knee underneath then lowered the base to rest on my thigh. With my left hand cradling the princess, my right hand picked up a wrench that I had placed on the floor nearby. I moved my right hand and wrench under the base, found the threaded rods with my fingers and blindly put the wrench around a nut and gave it a gentle tug. To my surprise the nut turned easily. Wonderful. I continued with the wrench until the nut turned freely then loosened the nut under the princess' other foot too.
Once the nuts and washers were off I sat the upper base down and stood up beside the princess. Taking hold of the bag sides I lifted the sculpture, pulling the connecting rods out of the base. Success. She was safely in my arms.
Before anything could go wrong, I reversed the steps and reattached the sculpture to the base, confident that it could be moved to the library when needed.
My wife Pam was the final helper, filling minor imperfections with Winterstone icing. Our focus was on the princess' legs and bag. We were tempted to use a broad spatula to smooth the bag and remove all indents from sculptor's fingers but that would make the bag too perfect for a princess wearing it as clothing so we left most of the finger indents intact.
The next day I worked alone, sanding the entire sculpture except for the hair, making final adjustments along the way. I discovered some clumps of Winterstone on the princess' face near the hairline. Since they were too stubborn to be sanded away, I used a file to shave them off then sanded the area to remove scrape lines made by the file.
Using the same file, I deepened the contours between the fingers and toes and shaped the nails. It felt like I was giving the princess a manicure and pedicure.
The face is the most critical part of the sculpture. Human nature will cause people to study the face to see the characteristics and emotions. Subconsciously they will notice unnatural imbalances and instantly know whether the face is nice or odd. To avoid making a critical mistake, I used a pencil to draw the eyes and mouth on the sculpture. The circle for the left eye looked good but the right one was a bit too large and needed erased and redrawn twice. The left side of the mouth curved down in a beautiful smile but the right side was ragged. Erase and redraw. Repeat until it looked balanced. I stepped back to get a better look and decided that the centre of the mouth was too close to the nose. Erasing and redrawing it lower gave the princess a more emphatic smile. I drew small dimple arches at both ends of the mouth. They were too horizontal, making the princess' smile look wry. After being redrawn they were too vertical and unnatural looking. A few attempts later they were perfect.
For the next few days I sprayed the sculpture with water to help the Winterstone cure harder. Meanwhile, I studied the smile and compared it to two pictures that Michael Martchenko had drawn in the storybook. The picture of the princess waving goodbye to the dragon had very simple facial lines. The first picture in the book showed a beautiful face with more complex details. The face drawn on the sculpture was an ideal midpoint. With the utmost care, I attached a diamond bit to the end of my Dremmel rotary tool and slowly carved the face using light lines first then gradually deepening them with repeated gentle passes. The princess looks perfect but I'm not posting a picture of her here on the web site. I'm keeping it a secret until the unveiling at the library.
Now that the base was bigger, I needed more slate to cover it so off I went to Ceramic Decor to buy twenty more tiles. While there I asked if they would be interested in sponsoring the project. I'm willing to cover all costs for the sculpture but with the slate supplies around two hundred dollars, any help would be appreciated. They handed me a business card for Angle Inglis, their Retail Operations Manger who wasn't there at the time and and suggested that I follow up with her. Later I sent an email to Angel explaining the Paper Bag Princess sculpture and within minutes after pressing the send button my phone rang. It was Angel saying that Ceramic Decor would be happy to contribute the tiles plus supplies. She too was a Robert Munsch fan plus Ceramic Decor had done work for him in the past and they were very willing to participate in this tribute.
When I stopped by to drop off ten tiles needing cut and to pick up free glue and grout, Angle refunded my previous costs for slate tiles. Thanks! I left the scale model of the sculpture at Ceramic Decor for a few weeks for them to display and receive credit for their contribution. It has been wonderful to have Ceramic Decor step up and help with this tribute.
One day while working on the sculpture I realized that the base was too small. It needed to be slightly higher to give the princess a greater visual impact and it needed to be wider to protect her from people passing by and inadvertently bumping her. I decided to add a lower base piece, the same height as the top base piece but one foot wider on all sides. This would create a sitting ledge for children wanting the be near the princess.
Digging through the stack of wood inventory in my basement I found an old sheet of plywood that the developer had used for a sign when the neighbourhood was being developed. He had discarded it many years ago once the development was complete and I had dragged it into my basement for possible future use. It leaned against the wall doing nothing but collect dust for more than a decade, waiting to be called into duty. It was large enough to use for the sculpture's base and as a bonus, it had a map of the neighbourhood painted on one side. How symbolic! I took a permanent marker and drew a tiny sketch of the sculpture on the lot showing where our house was built, then made a note saying, "This is where the Paper Bag Princess Sculpture was created.
I turned the board so that the map faced down, cut it to size then glued and screwed two by four boards around the edges. Someday, maybe far in the future, someone will be moving the sculpture, tip the base onto its side and discover the map and note written on the bottom. I love the hidden message.
In this busy season of Christmas, I took a few weeks off sculpting to free up time for shopping and a multitude of festive activities. Now I'm back at it.
The legs and feet were completed except for minor touch ups and so were the arms and hands.
During these final stages I often had flash-back memories of events that happened along the way. While applying a thin layer of Winterstone icing to the crown I recalled Evan Lew telling me about a big problem with the crown's prongs. The memory made me smile.
While applying a thin-as-skin layer of icing to the princess' face to cover small blemishes I recalled Peyton Clarke's natural abilities smoothing the clay with her finger tips. She, along with many other helpers demonstrated amazing artistic abilities. I smiled again.
As I looked at the shortening list of things to do, I see the end in sight. I contacted Kitty Pope at the Library to pick an unveiling date. We tentatively picked February 19th at 5:00, just before a board meeting. The media will be invited along with some special guests. I hope that all of the volunteers who helped build the Paper Bag Princess sculpture can join us for the unveiling. We will send each of them an invitation once the details are settled.
Each day spent working on the sculpture focuses on a different part such as shaping the legs or smoothing the arms. I start by sanding it with coarse sandpaper to remove sand-like clumps on the surface and remove high spots. Sandpaper works wonders by making the high spots appear slightly lighter in colour than the untouched low spots. It instantly shows how bumpy the surfaces are even though they were smoothed as best as possible with my fingertips when the clay was soft. As I continue sanding, the light coloured high spots grow in size until eventually the low dark spots disappear. However, I have to be careful because not all high spots are unwanted. For example, throughout the process I have to keep reshaping features such as ankle bones so that they are not lost.
There are also areas where insufficient clay is present. If I sand it all the way down to the bottom of the low spot then the shape will become unbalanced. For example, if one leg has too deep of a low spot on a thigh and I sand it all the way down to the bottom, this thigh will be smaller than the one on the other leg. To keep the princess balanced these areas that are too low have to be left for now and once the entire sculpture is sanded I'll go over it and add a thin layer of clay to them.
Throughout the building of the sculpture, the hair has had many layers added by people helping out. I completed the forshape by adding a few more layers of Winterstone in specific areas to bring it into the proper final shape then added a layer of icing and dragged my putty knife through it to create hair-like swoops. It created a nice dragon-burned look. Perfect! The hair is complete.
Lee Lyon and her two daughters Chloe and Gracie offered to help build the princess sculpture months ago but the time slots available were already filled so they waited patiently for an opportunity to arise. They had the privilege of being the first group to apply an icing layer to the bag. They particularly enjoyed using their fingers to smooth the icing.
As the sculpture approached its final form, the icing had to be applied very carefully because there are few future layers to fix accidental oh-oh's. My daughters Ashley McCarl-Palmer and Sondra Burrows-Wolting along with her husband Justin Wolting-Burrows stepped up to the challenge. Knowing how much I love my creations and how important details are, they were filled with trepidation at the start but by the end it had evolved into a typical family adventure filled with chatter, laughter and goofing around.