Welcome to my blog about art and design. Get inspired for your next project and see what I'm working on and teaching about right now.

ArtPrize RAIN

This is my documentation of the process of entering, creating and exhibiting in ARTPRIZE. If you are an artist thinking about entering, you will learn a lot by reading about my experiences. My first entry sold for around $20,000. It was a bronze sculpture and now stands permanently in front of Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 1
I was reading about the concept for ArtPrize in the Grand Rapids Press the first time and I was excited. Half a million dollars in prize money? For art? Unheard of! I talked to every artist I ran into to see what they thought about it. 

"Are you going to enter this competition? It's open to anyone in the world. No jury which means no hierarchy of art elitists who determine who or what gets in!"

No one would commit but everyone was very much intrigued and pondered the possibilities. I began to formulate a plan.
Here was an opportunity to present my passion to the world; sculpture.

 I reserved a spot in my brain for ArtPrize dreaming. This was the think tank for materials acquisition and logistics, space planning, funding, and above all -inspiration and design. Whenever I caught myself in that daydreaming place I connected with the 'ArtPrize Station" and took up the task of flaming the dream.

No one knew what kind of impact this art exhibit would have in the Spring of 2009.  Not until it happened that Fall were people completely amazed.  
I knew that the prize money would draw a lot of competition and a lot of interested people and I hoped that my artwork would sell. The thought of winning some of that prize money was always a carrot but what kept me driving towards the goal was the commitment of having my name publicized. It is a huge risk to put yourself on the line out there where everyone can see it and talk about it. The public forum is daunting and scary.

I paid my $50 and signed up online to be one of the thousands of artists to take the risk. Then I found some info to post about myself and started the search for a venue.

LINK TO ArtPrize

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 2

Finding a venue for Artprize is challenging. The system is designed for venues and artists to match up on their own. No outside authority or jury decides who gets in or where the exhibit happens. There are rules but they are not difficult to follow. Venues simply have to be inside the downtown Grand Rapids radius that is mapped out. 

Any location can apply to be a venue as long as they are able and willing to staff the venue during ArtPrize hours. Accessibility is also a requirement. The registration fee is about $100 and there are other expenses that may be incurred depending on how involved the venue becomes. Some venues will throw big parties with live music and refreshments to bring in the crowds. Others will do a lot of publicity to promote their business or organization.

The cost for artists to register is $50. Literally anyone 16 years and older can enter ArtPrize as an artist. Once you are registered you can publicly promote your work on the ArtPrize website and start connecting with venues. This process of finding a venue that will exhibit your artwork and help you promote it is like The Dating Game for artists. I call it the American Idol of Art because ultimately the public decides who wins.

I found about 35 different venues that I liked and sent them emails with contact info. My favorites were non profit organizations. The response was limited to about 5 very different locations and I looked for the one that best suited the sculpture I was planning.  None of the offers fit quite right and I was getting ready to settle. There was only about one week left before the deadline when Mary Free Bed Hospital responded to my email. I was hesitant because they are located on the very outskirts of the ArtPrize boundary and I knew that the crowds would be close to the center of the city.
We set up a meeting to check out the venue. I met with Meg from public relations and we discussed the location and the sculpture. Even though I knew nothing about Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital we had some things in common. My brother-in-law, Mike Donahue, had been a patient there in the past and he also exhibited some of his artwork at their annual art show. Meg told me up front that they had hopes of finding an artist with a disability. I suggested that they might settle for a model with a disability.
That is when I thought about the possibility of Mike's daughter, Emily, becoming the model for the sculpture.
Meg and I tossed the idea around and we shook on it. I had a venue! Now the real work would begin.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 3

There was not an official agreement to have my niece, Emily, model. It was an idea tossed around; just a suggestion but my wheels were turning. What if I she would agree to let me use her disability in the sculpture?
Emily, the sharp-witted/quiet, non-assuming/beautiful, girl/woman is a walking conundrum. Her disabilities are major but not readily noticeable. She has what we used to call a 'withered' arm. She has limited use of her right side and has had a kidney transplant. The two physical ailments may or may not be related. It's funny how doctors don't really have an explanation for why Emily suffers this way. She knows that God knows and He is the one who helps her the most.

Emily didn't ask a single question. All she said was, "yes!"
Before I entered ArtPrize I decided exactly what I would enter and made a maquette. A maquette is a miniature clay model that represents what the final sculpture will look like. My maquette stood about 14 inches tall. It showed my idea of a girl standing in the rain, looking up to the sky and holding a giant leaf in her hand. Her right hand is lifted to touch a drop of rain to her lips. The name, 'Rain', tells part of the story. My intent was to let the viewer tell their own story about this person interacting with nature.

Ann Bjorlie, my sister-in-law, was exited about ArtPrize too. She wanted to help me get the job done and help to promote my entry. I knew it would take a lot of time and energy to accomplish the task and there was only 1 month to work on the sculpture and another 3 weeks to promote after the start of ArtPrize. I welcomed the help but warned her that this effort may not pay off. I had no way to pay her for helping me. She was eager to get involved. It seemed to me that she was the only other person I knew who understood the significance of this endeavor.
We began by cleaning out my garage and finding all of the equipment needed. Ann helped me load up a huge block of styrofoam from Michigan Foam in Grand Rapids, MI. We set it up and I began cutting it down. This was the wrong kind of foam to use and I found out much later that I should have used a much denser product. There were little styrofoam balls floating all over the place. It was the beginning of a huge mess.

Then Emily stepped up to model and things began to take shape. She brought along some patience and I continued to carve away. Soon I realized that the styrofoam would not work for carving fine detail. Casting would be the next step.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 4

I only had one month to work on this sculpture. My venue was established and there was just enough money saved to pay for all of the materials. But there was only one month to the deadline when the artwork would be unveiled: a realistic/impressionistic, life sized sculpture of a young woman standing. How was this going to happen? Where would I get the energy, the skill, the guts to get it done?

I prayed, Ann prayed and I am sure there were others praying too. Over 20 people came to my rescue during the 30 days. I had no idea it would take this much effort to accomplish the goal.

2 Assistant artists: Ann Bjorlie and Miriel Williams assisted in making the casts and applying the 'goop'.
(more on 'goop' later)

3 Photographers: Robert Pearson who does wonderful nature photography and Kathy and Jenifer
Barton, sisters who work together and do beautiful action shots.

2 Consultants: Paul Evans is an all around nice guy artist who knows a lot about structure using plastics and metal and Brian from Michigan Foam who was a great connection for info on materials and equipment.

2 Public Relations Coordinators: Meg Duhrer and Darci Luykt from Mary Free Bed helped with mailing and scheduling special events.

3 Models: Emily Donahue was the primary model and gets all the credit but Danni Donahue, my daughter-in-law stopped by one day and agreed to model for awhile. Ruthie Garcia also helped out a lot because Emily decided not to have her face cast and Ruthie who had no idea what she was getting into stepped in.

2 Cooks: Mrs. Barton who brought the best burritos ever and my husband, Tim,  who can always be counted on for fast food delivery.

8 brawny men to move the sculpture and place it in the exhibit location at Mary Free Bed. At least 4 guys from the staff at Mary Free Bed helped along with my brother John Bjorlie.
Curt Veenstra and two of his sons helped to install the final bronze sculpture after ArtPrize was over.

Now I was really stuck. There was no way I could back out of this corner and the days were clicking by.  The foam was not working out and I had to insert an armature to hold the whole thing together. The armature should have been built before I even started but now I was working backwards.

I figured out a way to stabilize the structure with Paul Evan's help  but I would have to rely on castings for the hands, feet and face because of the foam. This was challenging and fun. The garage door was always open because the September weather was beautiful. 

Now it was time for the 'goop'.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 5

This was nothing I had ever seen or worked with before; liquid plastic. It didn't smell but it was gooey awful stuff and hard to manage. Shell-Shock is what it is called and it dries hard in just a few minutes and becomes very hard and brittle over time.

Small amounts are mixed in disposable cups and applied with a brush or stick. The brushes will harden after about 15 minutes so many disposable and cheap brushes and small paint sticks are needed. It can be poured and that is what I did to make the casts.

There is another type of goop that is more fun to work with. It's called Body Double and is less toxic and like rubber. It's a two part mix as well and is applied directly to the skin to create a mask or mold. It dries fast to a flexible rubbery substance. 

Then a coat of medical plaster and gauze is applied to make a form that hardens over the rubber. The plaster will serve as a support for the rubber mold and help it to keep the shape when the liquid plastic is poured into the mold.

Once the cast was completed you could see the fine detail in the fingers. The mold turned out beautifully and Emily's arms and hands looked just like her.

The entire sculpture needed to be completely covered with the goop. This is what would make it impervious to moisture and the outdoor elements. After applying about an 1/8 inch over the entire surface the sanding began.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 6

Have you ever used a Dremel?  This is the coolest little rotary tool and it made the sanding workable. The entire sculpture from head to toe needed sanding and it was hard to work with all of the detail. Just think how intricate a fingernail is when manicuring. Standard sanding equipment just wouldn't work for this project.

Usually a soft and pliable media that can be subtracted or added to like modeling clay is used for a sculptures on this scale. The clay is used because it is fairly cheap and very workable. Once the original is finished it is sent off to the foundry where the bronze casting takes place. Because of ArtPrize I did not have that luxury. My sculpture would be outdoors on exhibit for 3 weeks in the unpredictable Michigan climate. That is why I chose to use the urethane plastic compound called Shell Shock.

Constrained in some ways but learning a lot as I went, the process was finally nearing the end. The urethane plastic was hard and impervious to the Michigan moisture and I knew this was the only way to go. The sanding commenced.

The Dremel tool made it easy to sand out the detail and even 'Rain's' teeth needed work. I felt like a dentist with his fine little drill buzzing away. The only painful thing for me was the headgear I needed to wear. The sanded plastic was fine and powdery and was dangerous to breath in. I had to use a painters spray painting mask complete with a double filtering system. It almost covered my entire head. I sanded for about a week and looked forward to the day when I could start painting the ugly gray shell. She would come alive with the reflective bronze coloring.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain, chapter 7

 Finishing Touches

This was it. Done. Now the sculpture could be secured in place.  ArtPrize was starting in just a few days. What would people think about this piece of art? Would they like it or hate it? Would they praise it or laugh at it?

Too late now to worry. This is the risk that artists take; to put ourselves out there and let the critique begin.

What a relief to be done but what a lot of work was ahead with all of the promotion for ArtPrize. There were lots of events and promotions set in place by Mary Free Bed and now I was committed. Ann helped with the organization and we worked together to promote "Rain" and seek out votes.

We loaded it up in my truck and lined up a bunch of people to help install it. Here's me with the head grounds keeper at Mary Free Bed.

Narumi came to help with the installation. And below is Ann and John helping out.

Anyone who signs up at ArtPrize can vote on each ArtPrize entry. It's free for viewers and you can vote for every single piece either up or down. The winners are determined by the number of up votes and the down votes are stimulus for conversation. Would it work? No one knew.

We do know now that ArtPrize was a huge success because of the public response. There were hundreds of thousands that came out for this event. And anytime you mention the word ArtPrize to anyone a conversation will commence for the next 15 minutes.

Finding a buyer was my main objective and a difficult one. Winning some of the prize for ArtPrize was Ann's objective (even more difficult) but because of her enthusiasm many people at Mary Free Bed started talking about purchasing the sculpture so they could keep it on exhibit.  See a photo and short article about it on my website.
When the dust cleared and ArtPrize 2009 was over The Mary Free Bed Guild started a fund to purchase a bronze version of 'Rain'.

We drew up a contract and scheduled the sculpture to be bronzed in Kalamazoo at the Alchemists Sculpture Foundry. I'll show you the results next. The coloring is much richer than the original shown above.

ArtPrize: The Story of Rain; chapter 8

The Alchemist Sculpture Foundry in Kalamazoo Michigan is owned by Brent and Brett. These guys really know the business of bronze casting and can do it all. I will show you the process with lots of pics. 
If you want to know more watch the Utube video listed at the end of this article. I chose the video because of the narrator's cool accent. He sounds so enlightened and artsy!
Here's Brent showing a rubber mold. This is the first step in the casting process. The rubber mold is applied to the original sculpture and it is called the 'mother mold' which means it is the original and can be reused to make more of the same sculpture.

 The hot wax is poured into the rubber mother mold and after it hardens the rubber shell is removed and saved. The wax is then examined before proceeding. Brent and Brett show the wax image after the mother mold cast is removed.

I worked on the wax to make sure the image was exactly right before the next step. I added and subtracted wax as needed. The sculpture was cut into 5 different pieces.
 Next the wax pieces are dipped in liquid glass. This is a ceramic mixture that coats the wax in several layers. It is dried and then baked in a kiln to a hard impervious finish. The lost wax method is what it is called because the wax melts away leaving just the ceramic mold.
 Brett shows a piece that is ready for the bronze pour. This is from a different sculpture. A styrofoam cup is attached to the wax and covered in ceramic also. You can see it at the top of this piece. That is where the molten bronze is poured.

This is the Crucible. The place where the bronze is heated up to 2000 degrees (I think….really hot anyway!!) Brett is holding a brick of bronze.
 After the bronze is poured and cooled off the ceramic shell is broken off. Sandblasting is used to clean the ceramic out of detail areas and to polish the bronze.
The pieces are then welded together and polished so the entire sculpture looks seamless. You can't see where the sculpture was cut apart. Brent is using chemicals and fire to burn the patina into a small  bronze sculpture that he designed.
Here is the finished sculpture, Rain, at the Alchemist Sculpture Foundry. Notice the different coloring that Brent used for the leaf, the skin and the hair. (you might notice this photograph is spliced because I made a mistake setting the camera)
That is it and now this sculpture, Rain, stands forever at the entrance of Mary Free Bed Hospital. Whew! What a job. I'm glad that one is done! Thanks to all the people that helped out with this project. See Chapter 4. I think there were over 20 of you. Next I'll post some new photos of Rain on site by Bob Pearson. We are waiting for the weather to clear a bit because there's over 2 feet of snow on the ground now.
Here is a Utube video that shows the bronze casting process. Enjoy! 

1 comment: