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Month: April 2010

Eagles, dragons: Stainless steel takes on many forms

Eagles, dragons: Stainless steel takes on many forms

Metal fabricator Kevin Stone uses gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) to sculpt massive pieces of art from stainless steel. Read about Stone’s creative and technical processes and discover important tips that can improve your stainless steel welding.

A few years ago Kevin Stone, a senior fabricator, decided to combine his years of welding experience with his innate artistic ability and began creating stainless steel sculptures on a large scale. While people make the pilgrimage to Stone’s yard in Chilliwack, B.C., to see the “Power of Flight,” a 12-ft. tall, 18-ft.-long stainless steel eagle with a 41-ft. wingspan, Stone is busy inside his studio working on his latest project: an 85-ft.-long Chinese dragon.

With price tags of more than $3 million, Stone’s sculptures are designed to weather the elements and never lose their shine. His objective is to create “shock and awe artwork … beauty on a large scale.” To achieve this vision, he works with stainless steel, which he considers to be one of the more difficult metals to work with.

“Very few people can weld thin stainless,” Stone said. “It will oxidize quickly, overheat, and burn through. It requires polishing to bring out its beauty, which is very labor-intensive. Very few people work with it. However, it’s worth the effort. Once it’s polished, it can be out in the elements, and it won’t corrode, rust, or lose its mirrorlike quality. My vision is for my sculptures to be mounted over water to bring out the reflective qualities and use colored lights for effect.”

About 14 months into the “Chinese Imperial Water Dragon” , Stone already has used 1,800 sq. feet of 16-gauge 304 stainless steel and expects to use another 1,800 sq. ft. before he’s done.

The Creative Process

When beginning a new sculpture, Stone conducts some preliminary research and design, but he builds primarily from his imagination. “I have a blueprint in my head that I follow,” he said. “I visualize five to 10 steps ahead of what I’m working on. I picture what the overall shape will be and try to think of something that will fit inside that shape, yet be structurally strong.”

To help with fit-up and save both time and material, Stone first works out the details on paper. After he finishes one piece of stainless, he cuts a piece of paper to represent the next piece and ensure it fits perfectly before transferring it to a piece of stainless.

Stone shapes the pieces by hand and then tack-welds them into place with his Miller Dynasty® gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) machine. He first places the welds several inches apart. When Stone is happy with the fit-up, he adds more tack welds between the existing welds until there are welds about every half-inch. He eventually finish-welds the pieces together, welding a 10-in. section in one place and then moving to another section. This helps to minimize the heat input and to ensure proper fit. He finishes by grinding down the welds and polishing the pieces.

Ceramics of pals Natsoulas, Kavaljian at Solomon Dubnick

Ceramics of pals Natsoulas, Kavaljian at Solomon Dubnick


Lee Kavaljian, 84, and Tony Natsoulas, 51, are the odd couple of art.

Natsoulas, despite his small stature, seems larger than life. Outgoing, boisterous, full of energy, he’s a force of nature. Kavaljian, also diminutive, is quiet, shy, diffident and self-effacing. Yet they are the best of friends, and both are strong ceramic artists who are sharing a show at Solomon Dubnick Gallery.

Their works are as different as their personas. Natsoulas, who was described as one of the top 100 artists in the country in the Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Art, is known for brightly colored, large-scale figures and busts that range from guitar players and shoe salesmen to characters from popular culture and Greek mythology.

Kavaljian makes small- scale “spirit houses” based on various forms of Asian architectural miniatures that were placed in graves in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Intricate and ethereal, they are delicately daubed with as many as 11 layers of glaze that give them rich but restrained surfaces.

You would expect Natsoulas to overwhelm Kavaljian, but once you get him talking, he more than holds his own with the younger and more famous artist.

Now retired but still teaching biology and botany at California State University, Sacramento, Kavaljian came to making ceramics almost by accident. In 1956, he had some students in class who were art majors but were having difficulty doing botanical drawings. When Kavaljian teased them about not being able to draw, they explained that they were ceramics students, not draftsmen.

In self-defense, they challenged Kavaljian, who could draw on the blackboard with two hands, to try making a clay pot. To their delight, his first attempt failed absolutely as the clay flew off the potter’s wheel. But they invited him to come to the ceramics lab on Saturdays and keep trying. Eventually Kavaljian succeeded, and his work wound up in a show at the Richmond Art Center.

After that he was hooked. He continued studying ceramics with Ruth Rippon, Yoshio Taylor and other prominent regional ceramists. Eventually he developed his own method of constructing clay sculptures using leather-hard ceramics as opposed to the wet clay used for throwing pots.

A student and teacher of Asian art, who will appraise Oriental objects at the Crocker Art Museum’s appraisal day in May, Kavaljian became entranced by ancient Chinese “spirit houses” made to ease the passage of the deceased in the afterlife. Not being able to afford one, he decided to try making one. He was so successful that he was given a show of his efforts at the Judith Weintraub Gallery in 1990. Since then his spirit houses have won many awards and have been featured in Lincoln’s annual “Feats of Clay” exhibitions and in California State Fair art shows.

In contrast, Natsoulas settled on a career as a ceramic artist at age 11. While still in high school, he took concurrent classes in ceramics at the University of California, Davis, where internationally known ceramic sculptor Robert Arneson taught. It was the beginning of a long academic journey where he studied at California State University, Sacramento, with Rippon, Bob Brady and Gerald Walberg; at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore; and again at UC Davis, where he got his master of arts degree in 1985.

Over the years, he has done public art commissions, including monumental ceramic figures for the Downtown Plaza and municipal projects for the city of Sacramento and most recently, Stockton. His works are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shigeraku, Japan; the University of Iowa; and many California museums, including the Crocker, the San Jose Museum, Oakland Museum, Laguna Museum and Triton Museum.

Natsoulas’ early works were raucous, expressionistic figures influenced by the Funk school of ceramics founded by Arneson and David Gilhooly. In recent years he has focused on entertainers, from the Beatles to Audrey Hepburn; a series of campy, over-the-top 18th century figures; and his current work, which relates to mythological figures from a variety of cultures.

Drawing on his Greek ancestry, he gives us a bust of Hephaestus, the Greek god of metal forging, sculpting Pandora. The oversized head of the figure is modeled on Natsoulas’ friend sculptor Joe Scarpa, and the small body is surrounded by attributes of the deity, who was also the god of volcanoes and employed the Cyclops and two robots of his own making in his studio.

Kavaljian is the model for another of his works titled “Lee Counts His Snails Under the Bodhi Tree,” which illustrates a story about the Buddha. In it, Kavaljian’s head is covered with snails, calling up the legend that when the Buddha was meditating to gain enlightenment, his head was burning in the hot sun until a congregation of snails came to rest on his head to protect it. It’s a charming piece and a good likeness of Kavaljian, which won the Best of Show Award at last year’s California State Fair.

In other works Natsoulas looks at Lilith, the apocryphal first wife of Adam who preceded Eve, and a series of mythical creatures including a sea monster and a Philippine version of bigfoot. Also on hand are examples of his cartoonlike footwear, including a pair of “Banana Slippers” and “Break Shoes,” which are decorated with coffee and doughnuts.

Kavaljian’s works range from the tall, pagodalike structure “Dancer’s Spirit House” and the folk art- flavored “Bird Palace,” to the ethereal, powder-blue “Crystal Spirit House” and the innovative “East Meets West in a Roman Ruin,” which blends elements of classical Roman and Asian art in a semicircular structure that houses a small Thai Buddha. Fanciful and ornate, the houses seem to contain dark recesses in which spirits might dwell – not only the spirits of the deceased but, in some cases, the spirits of the land where modern structures were built. In either case, they are magical.

Making a plaster sculpture

Making a plaster sculpture

Making a plaster sculpture can be achieved in two ways: by direct modeling and by casting the plaster from clay. This article will deal with the first method of direct modeling.

Plaster is one of the most common and accessible materials available for art. There are many different grades of plaster, but for direct modeling ordinary building plaster will be suitable. You may however experiment with harder plasters that will be more expensive.

You may simply pour plaster into a box, if you want a block of plaster to carve from. However, for our example we will use a method that is slightly more sophisticated. We will use a human head as out model. Find a picture of a person’s head as your starting point. Remember that as this stage we are interested in learning the process of plaster sculpture. Do not be concerned at this stage with creating a great sculptural masterpiece. This can come later. The next step is to build an armature

Building an armature.

An armature is a frame for your sculpture. It can be made from any strong and rigid material like wire or steel. If you have a small welder you can quickly construct a basic steel frame for almost any sculpture. The frame is a basic rough outline of your sculpture and is meant to hold the material, in this case plaster, securely in place. Use the following method for making your first armature.

Secure a round piece of wood to a piece of hardboard. You can do this by gluing the wood together or by using nails or tacks. The length of the wood should be about two or three inches shorter than the length of the head you envisage making. Please note that it is not advisable to try to make a very large sculpture at the beginning. You will find that you may not have enough plaster and that it may be more time- consuming than you at first thought.

Now take some lengths of flexible wire and secure them to the piece of hardboard with nails. Bend the wire to make a rounded shape. Attach these wires to the central wooden pole. You should secure at least four pieces of wire in this way. This is the basic structure of your head. Make sure that the entire structure is smaller than the head ‘s final dimensions. The next stage requires knowledge of the correct mixing of plaster. We will return to the final stage of the armature after the next section.

Mixing plaster

Plaster of Paris works though water absorption. The powder from the plaster absorbs the water and develops into a tough, resilient material once it has dried. The relationship between the amount of water and the plaster is crucial when mixing the two. Too much water will make the plaster soft and crumbly.

The best method for mixing the plaster correctly is as follows:Take a bucket and fill it to just below half of its depth with clean water. Open your bag of plaster and scoop a handful of plaster. Drop the plaster into the water using your fingers as a filtering tool to ensure that no foreign objects enter the water. You may also use an ordinary kitchen sieve for this purpose; but this is more time consuming and is only necessary when casting a plaster mold from clay.

Continue the process by scooping handfuls of plaster and dropping them gently into the water. The process needs to be continuous and you should not stop for a break at this point. Remember that the plaster power is already beginning to react chemically with the water and is starting to “ set” or harden. When the plaster starts to form small mounds on top of the water then the correct balance between the water and plaster has been reached.

The next step is to gently insert your hand into the bucket of plaster and water and search for any objects, leaves etc. that may have fallen in. Gently stir, searching for clumps of plaster and breaking them up. This process also has the advantage of bringing air bubbles to the surface and ensuring that the plaster is uniform.

Finishing the Armature

Now that you have a basic knowledge of plaster mixing, we can complete the armature. Find some old rags and tear then into strips of about 40-50 cm long. Make a mixture of plaster and water. This is only to wet the rags, so fill the bucket only to a height of about 2 inches or 5 cm in depth. Once you have good mixture of plaster and water, dip the cloth strips into the mixture and twist then around the wire support. By winding the wet cloth strips around the armature you are creating a strong support and starting to build the sculpture itself. Allow these strips to dry. Small amounts of plaster like this rarely take longer than an hour to dry, depending of course on the amount of humidity in the air.

Creating your sculpture.

Once your armature is ready you can begin to ” throw” the final plaster shell for your sculpture. As you will be carving into the plaster, you should consider making the initial model slightly larger than the final product. For example, the areas where the nose and the forehead will be situated should be higher than the surrounding areas. Plaster, however, is very versatile and there are numerous ways of building up and carving the final sculpture.

Fill the bucket to just under half and begin the process of mixing as outlined above. When the plaster begins to “set” in the bucket- which means when to attain a semi- rigid consistency- begin placing it with your hands, or with any other tool- e.g. a trowel- on the armature. Continue doing this until you have built up the general shape of the head.

Carving and adding to the sculpture.

One of the great advantages of plaster sculpture is that you can add to the basic shape even after the plaster has dried. This means that if you decide that the nose of your sculpture should be larger, you can simply mix some plaster and add this to the nose. There are some things you should know before adding to the sculpture. Plaster will not adhere well to plaster if it is too dry. The best method of adding plaster to plaster is to firstly cut grooves into the dry plaster. This helps the adhesion of the next layer of wet plaster.

Secondly, it is a good idea to wet the surface dried plaster, as this will also create adhesion. Some sculptors also apply cold glue or white glue to the surface of the dry sculpture. Ideally you should not wait for the plaster to be completely dry before finishing this process.

Once you have the rough shape of the head, you can begin carving the final form. Carving into plaster is extremely easy when it is still slightly wet. The plaster becomes harder within a few hours and, depending on the consistency of your original mixture, can become almost rock hard over a period of days and weeks. The ideal time is to begin carving is about three hours after the plaster has begun to set, i.e. get hard.

There are numerous sets of basic carving tools that can be bought at craft shops. These sets are usually intended for woodcarving, but are ideal for plaster. On the hand, you can use almost any sharp instrument to carve plaster. Carve into the soft plaster and determine the main areas of your face first. In other words, carve out the nose, mouth, check bones, eyes etc. Once your plaster hardens you can refine these areas more easily. Remember that if you find that you have not added enough plaster to your armature you can always add small amounts of plaster, using the method suggested above.

The final product.

Now that you have carved your masterpiece, there are a few things that you should consider. Plaster is not intended as an outdoor medium for sculpture. Although it is comparatively strong and resistant, it is can weather fairly easily if left outdoors for a period of time. However, plaster can be kept indoors and, as long as it is not thrown about, will last for years.

Sculptors usually use plaster models as an intermediate stage in the development of their art. These plaster sculptures are then cast into a more durable material like bronze. But there are many sculptors, including Picasso, who retained plaster sculptures in their original plaster form. As a final touch you can use any clear vanish to protect the sculpture.

The History of Photography in Lebanon

The History of Photography in Lebanon

The invention of photography in the 19th century came at a time of major developments in the Near and Middle East. So it is not out of place here to recall them so that the context of the development of photography in this region may be better understood.

In 1799 the study of Egyptology took a great leap forward thanks to a discovery of great importance. A French officer came across the famous Rosetta Stone, which made possible the deciphering of the hieroglyphics. Although the stone was taken by the British and Thomas Young had begun to decipher it, it was the French historian Jean François Champollion who finally completed the study, in 1822.

In 1812, Petra and Abu Simbel were effectively explored by the Swiss Johan Ludwig Buckhardt.
The first regular shipping line between Marseille and Alexandria started operation in 1835.

In 1859, Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894) began the piercing of the Suez Canal, which entered into service ten years later following an official international ceremony under the patronage of the Empress of France, the Emperor of Austria and the Crown Princes of Prussia and Denmark. So the lines of communication, transport and commerce were greatly shortened.

Jerusalem, which up till then had aroused little interest apart from its Holy Places, developed as an international center. The British were the first to open a consular office there, in 1833, followed by the Prussians in 1842, the French in 1843, the Americans in 1844, the Austrians in 1845, and the Russians in 1858. In 1837 the Turkish postal services began to operate from Palestine and the first telegraphic service in the region was installed in Jerusalem in 1865.

In 1881, the first wave of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe arrived in Palestine, among them photographers.

During the 19th century, there were two ways of corresponding in the Ottoman Empire. There was the Turkish Post Office, slow and not very reliable, and there were the various post offices opened by the foreign powers. The most efficient ones were that of Austria, backed by Lloyd’s maritime Austriaco, and that of France. It was in this way that the French postal service established itself in the Ottoman Empire from 1830 on. This implantation was basically meant to make up for the shortcomings of the Turkish postal service and to improve the postal communications necessary for the smooth functioning of the French and other European enterprises and commercial operations set up in the main ports around the Mediterranean. Among the first five post offices installed between 1830 and 1849 was that of Beirut, in 1845. The stamps affixed on the letters were those of the countries running the post offices, and the stamped mail was carried regularly by the frigates anchoring off the Grand Hôtel d’Orient (hôtel Bassoul) near the present Hotel Phoenicia.

In the 19th century Britain and France had little difficulty extending their influence over the Levant, for although the Ottomans had been ruling there for three centuries, they had imposed neither their language nor their civilization, and had never imposed their culture over the Near East. What was more, they openly despised the local populations. Consequently, the rule of the countries of Western Europe had much more influence than that of the Ottomans. France spread its influence over Egypt, Lebanon and Syria through its commercial and cultural activities and through its social and cultural services. Great Britain was more concerned with the work of its missionaries and the extension of Protestant influence. One of the principal aims of these missionaries was the conversion of the local populations, the Jews in the Holy Land, particularly in Jerusalem, the Druze in Mount Lebanon, and the Greek Orthodox in Beirut, with financial aid for those who were converted. The limited success they met with in their mission seems today to be a proof of the difficult conditions of survival in the region.

At first, France was more successful in spreading its influence over the area. Britain, being preoccupied by its colonial efforts in India, was less concerned with the Near East. Further, the attitude of the French towards the local peoples proved more agreeable to them than that of the British.

During the second half of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, called by the Europeans the Sick Man of Europe, was crumbling on every front. This weakening of the Empire was due to several factors.

-As a result of the participation of France together with Great Britain during the Crimean War (1851-1853), Sultan Abdel-Magid was obliged to grant certain privileges to the non-Muslim inhabitants of his empire and to strengthen the reformist current in conformity with European conceptions.

-During the 1870s, the internal situation in Egypt deteriorated. The country was bankrupt and the Panislamic nationalist movements opposed to westernization became more numerous and violent. The condominium established by Paris and London over the finances of the Khedive provoked strong nationalist agitation which led up to the military revolt led by Arabi Pasha in 1882 and on June 11th to the massacre of some sixty Europeans in Alexandria. One month later, the British Navy bombarded Alexandria and then made landings there. In September, the British forces finally sent an expeditionary corps to occupy the whole of Egypt.

Famous Gemstones

Famous Gemstones

Recent discussion in the news of the fake ruby valued at £11million pounds make me think of the genuinely most famous and valuable gem stones. I thought I would look to familiarize myself with the some of the most famous gems and take a look at why they have reached that status.

The Hope Diamond. The 45.52 carat steel blue Hope Diamond was found in India. It weighs approximately 12 carats. It first came to public attention when Jean Batiste Tavernier, a famous French traveler of the 17th century, was approached in India by a slave who had an intriguing steel blue stone which appeared to be a large sapphire Tavernier soon realized it was a diamond – the largest deep blue diamond in the world. Legend has it the diamond came from the eye of an idol in a temple on the colroon River in India. If that is the case, one can only imagine that the eye must have had a mate, but its fate never come to light. Tavernier purchased the stone and smuggled it to Paris, where he later sold it to King Louis XIV. It was cut there into a triangular-pear-shaped stone weighing 67.50 carats, and was then known as the French Blue

Hope_DiamondThe Star of India. At 563.35 carats, the Star Of India is the largest and most famous star sapphire in the world. It was discovered more than 300 years ago, in Sri Lanka, where excellent sapphires are still to be found in deposits of sand and gravel left by ancient rivers. Industrialist and financier J. P. Morgan presented the sapphire to the New York Museum of Natural History in 1900 and even today this stone is one of the most famous objects in all of the Museum’s collections. In 1964 the Star of India (along with the Delong Star Ruby) was the object of an infamous burglary, both gems were recovered.
The Star of Africa. A pear shaped diamond weighing 530.20 carats is also known as the Cullinan I. It’s called the Cullinan I because it’s the largest of the 9 large stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond. The Cullinan II is the massive 317.40 carat cushion shaped diamond in the center-front of the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain. The Crown also features the Black Prince’s Ruby, as well as St. Edward’s Sapphire, and the Stuart Sapphire. The Star of Africa holds the place of 2nd largest cut diamond in the world. The Star of Africa is on display with the other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.
The Spirit of de Grisogono. At 312.24 carats is the world’s largest cut black diamond, and the world’s 5th largest diamond. The gem stone gets its name from Swiss jeweler de Grisogono, who was the was the first major jeweller to create collections of black diamond jewelry and watches. This diamond originally had a rough weight of 587 carats and was mined several decades ago in west Central Africa before being imported into Switzerland. It was then cut using the Mogul diamond cutting technique – this historic cutting method was developed centuries ago in India and can be seen in a number of historic diamonds.
The Tiffany Yellow. Found in 1877 / 1878. It was cut under the supervision of the distinguished gemologist George F. Kunz in 1878, yielding a cushion-cut brilliant of 128.54 carats. The gem is high in fluorescence and retains this rich color in artificial light, but is even more beautiful by day. The Tiffany Yellow is a rare canary yellow. This diamond is on show in Tiffany’s in New York and I was very excited to see this on a trip to New York in 2000.

Beginner Photography

Beginner Photography

As a beginner you may have a vast number of photography ideas. What you may be wondering is what technique is best to use with which idea. Before taking a photography course you may wish to try the technique described here.

Before you begin list all of your ideas on paper. Sit down and give yourself twenty minutes of uninterrupted time to brainstorm every idea that is saturating your mind. This technique is often called a “brain dump.”

You will be amazed at the creativity that emerges once your mind is cleared of all the clutter of thoughts and ideas you are having. After making your list put a star beside your favorite photography ideas – not more than ten.

Then go back and put two stars beside the ones that seem to excite you the most – not more than three. Take these three most exciting ideas and think about what it will take to complete them. Are you equally excited about the process each will require?

Choose the photography idea that excites you the most and that would be the easiest to implement. If all three of your top favorites are equal, write them on one piece of paper each, fold the paper, and put the papers in a box.

Now, with your eyes closed, draw one photography idea out of the box and get busy with it. When it’s complete, follow the same process to choose your next project. Simple, right?