I begin by contemplating a shape: maybe
a familiar solid such as the cube, or a more esoteric one
like the snub cube or rhombic dodecahedron. I think about
it with some modeling clay in hand, and perhaps some possibilities
develop; eventually something emerges that might be interesting
to build. Sometimes it isn't easy to visualize, but
usually I can at least indicate my idea in the plasticene
well enough to remember it.Next I need a CAD design. I make
this by re-modeling the piece, rather than attempting to digitize
it, as no scanner can pick up all the involutions of these
forms. Here I fine-tune the design, making precise what was
rough in the clay, nailing down proportions and details. This
is the longest and hardest part: many many days can go into
the model, and when I finally see it printed, as often as
not it goes back to the drawing board.
When I have the model complete in the
computer, I print it on my 3D printer, or if the piece is
to be large, send it to a service bureau with a bigger printer.
In either case, a physical model is fabricated from my CAD
design by building it up in layers, one layer at a time. This
additive method allows very free geometry; it's not
nearly so limiting as CNC methods in which the piece is carved.
During the build, support for undercuts is provided in various
ingenious ways. The machine I have, a Solidscape Modelmaker
II, builds support structures in a different material from
the actual part, and the supports are dissolved away in a
solvent bath after the build is done.
The result of the prototyping process is a strongly grained
model, showing the layers it was made with, that can look
a little like rough wood. The material is plastic or wax,
and it may be more or less durable, but in no case is it pretty.
The next step is to cast it into a material that is both aesthetic
and archival: metal. This is done by the lost-wax method,
an ancient and flexible casting process that can handle almost
any geometry. The disadvantage to this method is it destroys
the original model (hence "lost-wax"), so a new
wax is required for each casting. For most sculptors multiple
waxes models can come from a mold, but since that isn't
possible for my designs, I build a new prototype for each
I finish the rough castings with hand
and power tools: files, grinders, polishers, an occasional
weld. The piece is darkened with a hot chemical patina. In
some areas the texture is left intact for a rich surface,
in others I abrade it lightly, and for highlights it's
polished away entirely. Finally the piece is lacquered to
protect the finish, and it's done: my geometrical intuition
has been realized in the physical world.