Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sculptures at Electra C. Doren Open House January 3rd

Duncarrick Mansion - hand cut paper by Darren Kall

My sculptures are complete and will be installed this week! If you're in the Dayton Ohio area on January 3rd come see them as part of the Electra C. Doren library's new reading terrace.

On January 3rd the Electra C. Doren Library will celebrate their reopening after 10 months of renovation with an Open House for the public from 11:00am to 6:00pm. I will be there starting at 11:00am to show the sculptures. There is a children's program at 11:30am and 2:30 pm. A teen program at 4:00pm. And special guests and prizes during the day. The branch has new features such as a bright new children's area, dedicated spaces for adults and teens, a community room, enhanced technology, and a new reading terrace featuring my six aluminum sculptures of Old North Dayton landmarks. Hope to see you there.


Electra C. Doren 701 Troy Street, Dayton, Ohio 45404

Plus, because the sculptures are outside, the library is planning a special unveiling just for the sculptures sometime in the spring when it is warm enough to actually sit outside and enjoy the reading terrace.

I'm not posting pictures of the sculptures until after the open house but the attached image is one of the final artwork designs that the six metal sculptures were made from. The final artwork designs, like this one of the Duncarrick Mansion, were hand cut from black paper.

I'm way behind in writing posts. I was busy finishing the sculptures... but I'll be catching up now on lots of insights and stories. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Visually Impaired Touching Sculptures

The Healing Arts - photo by Artotem
I have a deep personal interest in making the sculptures I'm making for the Electra C. Doren library accessible to people with visual impairments. 

The sculptures are going to be built as part of the fencing on a proposed reading terrace that is being built for the library. Most of the fence will be directly accessible to touch. Even the parts that aren't directly accessible are only behind a small area of landscaping or alternately accessible from the street level by reaching up. 

Since the sculptures are cutouts, visually impaired patrons can touch the cut out areas and build a mental image of the artwork from the feel. 

The sculptures are made out of cut sheet aluminum. The waterjet cutting process leaves burrs on the far side of the cut and sharp edges on the leading edge. These will be sanded smooth to prevent injury when being touched. If the sculpture were mounted out of reach these would usually not need to be sanded.

This sanding preparation benefits more than the visually impaired patrons of the library. Anyone can touch the sculptures; kids, the curious, and those making accidental contact. Making it safe for the visually impaired makes it safe for everyone. 

I came from a family with a disabled family member.  Growing up in the disabled community I learned that most of what blocks access for people with disabilities are small things. Small things are easily fixed. If designers are made aware that they are blocking people with disabilities from accessing what they create, they can change that. Meeting constraints and challenges - it's what designers do. have spent a large part of my career designing technology for people with disabilities. I want to make sure that the sculptures I'm designing can be accessed by people with visual impairments.  

All patrons of the library will be invited to experience the sculptures, and the sculptures will be designed so that all patrons can. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tap, Track, Eyelet, Weld

Gary Plant Tubular Steel Corporation - photo by M. Marshall
My sculptures will be a permanent integrated part of the reading terrace fence at the ElectraC. Doren library. But how to integrate them?

Beyond the practical aspect, ensuring that the attachment is secure, I had two additional goals: aesthetics and reuse.

Aesthetics: My design is to replace the section of fence railings between posts with my sculptural metal panels. The pieces will be permanently integrated into the fencing supports as part of the fence, not as an attachment or overlay. This is done so that sunlight will puncture through the cutouts giving them shape and background without the added patterns of vertical fence railings confusing the image.

Reuse: I wanted to make the panel attachments something that would not stand in the way of future use. Twenty years from now when the library reading terrace gets remodeled I want the library to have the option to take the sculptures out of the fence and attach them to a window to let light through, to a wall, or to mount in some other free-standing place.

My thoughts were to use attachment methods I had used in the past. I suggested screw taps, slotted tracks, or even eyelets that could act as a locking hook mechanism. All of these could be anticipated in the design and built into the sculpture itself as an integral part of the metal during fabrication.

At the time of the proposal I did not know the actual fencing and post support system that will be used. I planned to work with the architects and the fence fabricators to determine the best way to install the sculptural panels. And I needed to resolve this before the panels were designed because the attachment method might impact the visible area of the panel, or what structural shapes I could do or not do.

After discussing these options with the architects and fence fabricators they had two different and insightful concerns: safety and resistance to tampering.

Safety: To ensure that the attachment mechanism will hold up to extended normal use the fabricator suggested welding the panels into the fence instead of an attachment mechanism that can be undone. This would still meet my aesthetic goals because we can place the railing mountings and secure the welding inside the fence components where it can't be seen. It makes reuse somewhat more difficult. Twenty years from now the library will only have to disassemble the fence and cut it at the welds which won't interfere with the sculpture itself, and they may not even need to do that if the welded components can be part of the new installation.

Resistance: I had thought about making the metal I used unattractive to those who may want to steal it for scrap metal; that's why I thought of steel and now of aluminum. But I didn't think about making the attachment mechanism undesirable to deal with. By welding the sculpture in place it makes it more trouble than it is worth to remove the sculpture. If someone could inspect the fence and see screw taps they might invest the time to try to remove it, but if they see welds they'll know that it will take a lot more work to remove.

So welds it is. Welds meets my goals and the goals of my project partners. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why I track my time

Burning Stubble??? Oh my!!
Photo by Pete
A lot of my artwork is tedious and detailed. When people see it they often ask "How long did that take you?" I tell them I would have to look up the actual tracked number of hours and their next question is; "You track your time? I thought artists didn't do that."

Without tracking time it is very easy for me to finish a project and have no idea how long it took me. When I'm doing artwork, especially if I have a big block of hours to do it in, I fugue into the work and lose all sense of time passing. Did I just spend an hour, two, three?

I don't know about other people who do artwork, but I track my time. Yes surely I don't track it all. If I'm sketching ideas, or I’m creating something for fun, I don't track my time. But when I'm on a project, a commission, or working on a specific piece with a purpose I start time tracking.

When I'm working on something that I will get paid for, having the time it took me to create it lets me calculate how much I made on the sale. I can figure out my "hourly wage" is for the work, and I can improve my estimation when I'm pricing the next art piece or project.

I count the total time: Sketching, obtaining materials, mock-ups, negotiations, communications, and the actual painting, sculpting, printing, etc. AND clean up. I don't count general studio operations, blogging, marketing, proposals, sales, or errands that keep the overall studio working - that's overhead. I take the price it sold for, subtract the cost of materials, then divide that number by the time I put into the project.

For example; I sell a painting for $4,000. I subtract the cost of materials; $500. I take $3,500 and divide it by the hours of work; 80.5 (I round to the quarter hour for ease of calculations) and I get ~$43.48 as my hourly rate for this painting. If my hourly rate target was to make $50.00 an hour then I need to charge more, paint faster, or reduce cost of materials :^). 

Calculating this is separate from figuring out what my hourly rate NEEDS to be. When I do that I calculate covering my overhead costs (see partial list above), how many items I sell in a year (occupancy rate), the market value of my artwork, and my financial needs. All of which factor into making the business of artwork sustainable. In this post I'm just talking about keeping track of time to get financial feedback on creating that one piece.

I know time tracking isn't very aligned with the general image of a free-flowing artist sitting at a café sketching all day and then working in feverish frenzy all night long, but if that's your style you can do that and track your time too. Maybe to protect your image you just don't tell anyone you track your time. :^)

Of course this is all a moot point if it only takes you an hour to paint $20,000 paintings and you can sell ten a week. But until you get there, tracking time is great for improving your estimation skills and your pricing of projects so that you're making enough to keep making artwork. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Measure twice, (three times, four times,) cut once: Sculpture size decisions

Measuring tape
Measuring tape - photo by Sarahluv

The sculptures in my commission for the Electra C. Doren library will be integrated into the fence of the new reading terrace. The fence will surround the terrace which will have raised landscaping and plantings, a sitting wall, and a view from inside the library through large new windows.

The terrace wasn't built at the time of my sculpture proposal. Even the architectural drawings for the terrace were not in their final state. Yet I had to propose a size for the sculpture panels.

I was given two sets of rendering/drawings for the fence that differed in the length and position of the fence, and different post-to-post distances. All these factors would make a big difference in the size of the panels I would propose. At the time I didn't know if there could be other dependent factors I wasn't aware of.

Knowing that my proposal was due before the decisions would be made to finalize the architectural design I had to either propose two different designs, one for each rendering of the terrace fence, or choose one and design for that proposing that it could be adapted if the decision went a different way.

Since the time from the RFP announcement date to the proposal submission date was extremely short for this first of the ReImagining Works RFPs, I decided to go with one proposal and suggest adjustments for changes to the design. It saved me time by not doing double designs but still showed that my proposal was adaptive and not dependent on just the fence design I selected.

I chose the fence design that did not have any sloping fence (going down a ramp). To help me with the size decision I did sketches of the terrace based on the architectural elevation illustration and put rough images of what my sculptures would look like at various sizes.  In some sketches I didn't use the whole post-to-post distance but left some of the fence railing space on either side of the sculpture. The balance of sculptural space and fence space seemed "right".

I proposed that each sculptural piece will be approximately two and a half feet high, and approximately four feet wide. The size of panels was approximate, based on the architectural drawings and I planned to adjust them as needed.

After I got the commission the fence plans kept changing. Even after one of the two sets of renderings became the plan of record there were more changes. The fence plan of record had 20 equal sized post-to-post sections of fence. I chose 8 of these positions for my sculptures. Then there was value engineering (See my post "Numbers, reuse, and value engineering") and the fence sections were redesigned and wound up not being equal. In this latest design there were only 10 potential equal sized post-to-post sections that were possible for my sculptures. I eliminated two of these because they were abutting each other in a corner. I eliminated two more because they were right next to other potential sections because I wanted the sculptures spaced out. That left 6 panels distributed around the terrace. Doing site specific public art requires project management of decisions like this and calling out the dependencies of the artwork on the rest of the architectural, construction, and fabrication decisions. 

Even with this change in the fence I was told I wouldn't really know the final size available to me until there were final shop drawings and field measurements agreed upon by architects, fence installers, and other stakeholders. This  meant I wouldn't know the size I had to work with until the wall was built. I collaborated with all these parties to uncover dependencies before I start designing my sculptures. I don't want to design something for one size only to find out that it changes and forces me to redesign. I want to work all this out before I start designing the final pieces. If I don't, then I could be doing a lot of work only to be surprised later and have to redo it. I'd rather invest the time up front. 

For example I got a version of the shop drawings that I was told were final. Then I had physical mock-ups made. When I compared the mock-ups to the shop drawing I noticed they were different by almost 3 inches in width. The mock-ups used an attachment method which preserved the open space on either side that I liked. The drawings had the sculpture attached directly to the posts with no space and a different connector method. If I had done my final artwork based on the shop drawings without the mock-up, I would be doing the final artwork over. 

The fence fabricator and I took the outside dimensions from the original shop drawing. We then calculated the space on the mock-up taken from the real connectors and mounting methods. We left the open space on either side and calculated the available space. Then we got everyone else to agree that this was the final size for all the sculptures.  If further dependencies show up then the fabricators, assemblers, and installers will adjust their work to that size and make it work. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Numbers, reuse, and value engineering

Value - photo by Cassidy Curtis

I learned a new term: Value engineering.  And I learned how doing value engineering would impact my design decisions on the sculptures I'm doing for the Electra C. Doren library as part of my ReImagining Works commission.

My metal sculptures are going to be embedded into the fence. That means that my designs are dependent on the fence design. And the fence design had to be settled before my sculpture design or I would have to change the design of my sculptures with every change to the fence design. Before I started designing I let the architects and the art board know that I needed the final design decisions of the fence for the reading terrace to be settled. Good thing I did - because there were value engineering changes to the fence design. 

I was prepared for the impacts of one decision: the fence door on the back of the reading terrace was changed into an emergency only exit. This made sense: the function of the fence door changed and there were a cascade of changes to my design because of this change in purpose. But some of the other changes were not as obvious. One of these changes impacted my sculpture design. Rather than the post-to-post distance being the same all the way around the fence, as it was in the original drawings, now the post-to-post distances would be irregular. Some would be around 4 feet and some around 6 feet with a few at unique distances; in all there would now be 6 different post-to-post distances. I couldn't figure the reason for these changes.

Value Engineering: I was told that they were the result of "value engineering". The description that followed sounded like "cost reduction", something I’m familiar with from technology product design. But value engineering is different. Everything in a project is evaluated for potential cost savings but value engineering calls for  preserving the desired level of function in the process. Only if function is not impacted can a cost savings be acceptably realized.

The fence would serve the same functional goals whether there were posts every 4 feet or every 2 feet or in the unequal pattern that was actually chosen. The difference was that if the distances could be maximized without sacrificing the fence's function and goals then the project could save costs. Fewer posts means fewer pieces to fabricate, fewer to install, and it means that the fence panels could be ordered at a larger size and cut.

Numbers: When I planned the sculptures from the original architectural drawings I chose to make eight sculptural panels. This was based on the equal spacing of panels in the drawing and wanting to have an acceptable panel to open fence ratio. I planned on three sculptural panels on the north terrace fence railing, three panels on the south terrace fence railing, and two panels on the west terrace fence railing. But I knew the fence design was in flux so I built flexibility on the number of panels into my proposal.

With the newly arranged posts I had a decision to make about what post-to-post distances made the most sense for the sculptures and how many of them worked in the new arrangement of fence sections. I chose to use the 4 foot sections because if I had chosen the 6 foot sections the resulting sculptures would have been visually overwhelming. Even though they would be of the same number, they would occupy much more of the visual space. I also chose to make 6 panels not 8 panels. Because of the pattern of posts if I made 8 panels it would mean that two 4-foot panels would be side by side in a corner. That would not be a good pattern, it would bring two panels too close, and whatever corner I put it in would make the images look cluttered. Instead the pattern works out to three panels on the north, two on the south, and one on the west wall. I negotiated to have the order of unequal fence sections rearranged on the north wall so that the three sculptures would be closer to the building and more part of the terrace space than if they were closer to the exit.

Reuse: My second concern with value engineering was anticipated early in my proposal phase. Value engineering is often associated with planned obsolescence. If the functional life of something is only expected to be 20 years then you do not need to invest the cost to make something durable enough to last 70 years. This is a wise investment because if you paid more for 70-year quality and only got 20 years before your use became obsolete, you'd have been overpaying. A fence and a reading terrace, will likely have a limited lifespan before it is time to replace it. For example 20 years from now the library may need to be remodeled because the pattern of library usage may have changed. If people no longer want to read on a terrace at the library, the library system will remove the terrace and construct something that meets the needs of those future library users. However, I want to design my artwork to last as long as possible - well more than 20 years. I don't want my sculptures to be obsolete.

I purposefully designed my sculptural concept for reuse. I conceived of the design so that the sculpture panels can easily be disassembled from the fence and put to other uses. For example, they can be mounted flat against an appropriate colored wall inside or outside a building where their images can be viewed. They can also as easily be mounted into the structure of a window to allow sunlight to come through the cutouts revealing their silhouettes. Or they can be separately mounted on supports to become freestanding separate panels for a sculpture garden or room use separator. 

While value engineering had an impact on the design process I think we mitigated the impacts on the actual sculpture. The sculptural panels are fewer in number but approximately the same size as before. They have new positions around the terrace, but ones that I think will work with the space. The fence has a 30-year warranty and may have a purposeful life expectancy of 20 years, but my sculptures can be reused.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Using sketches to help ME decide

Since the sculptures will be flat cutout images of buildings inspired by the style of Stacks in Celebration byCharles Sheeler making a cutout sketch of ONE of them helped me figure out the design of an individual panel. But I needed to imagine several of them in context to know if they would create the environment that I imagined for the reading terrace. 

I didn't want to make cutout sketches of all of them. I didn't have the time before the proposal deadline and I didn't even know what all the subjects would be at that time. Plus if I did them as cutout sketches I'd need to make a bigger environment sketch to put them in to see if they "worked" in the space. Overkill. I didn't need finished pieces, just rough approximations would help me. Plus I wanted the art commission board to see what several of them would look like in the context of the fence.

I did rough sketches of buildings with Sheeler-like sky backgrounds based on the architectural drawings that were part of the ReImagining Works RFP. I included these sketches in my proposal accompanying my explanations of what I proposed to sculpt.

Sketch 2: view from terrace 
This sketch shows how the sculptures will be seen from inside the reading terrace just as you step from the library out onto the terrace. There will be eight panels. Not all the panels are depicted in this sketch. Having panels surrounding the patio creates a gallery atmosphere to the enclosure.





Sketch 3: View of South terrace from Edmund Street

This sketch shows how three of the panels will be visible from the side street. They will be visible to pedestrians and to customers from the parking lot of the business across Edmund Street.





It may seem really simple to have used just these basic sketches to support my imagination. It probably took me longer to scan these sketches in and write this blog post than it did to do the sketches. But doing the sketches was critical for me to solidify my impression and confirm that my plan for the multiple sculptures would work for the space. It gave me confidence I was on the right track. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Showing sketches to patrons

When selling site-specific art I'm not selling a finished art piece, I'm selling an idea. My patrons don't want a completed art piece to put in a space, they want something designed for that specific space. I know the piece will evolve as the project continues so I want the patrons sponsoring the commission to buy the idea and participate in the evolution of the piece. I didn't want to show a finished piece as an example and say "It will be something like this - but different." Instead I wanted to show them an idea of what their sculptures would be without having to actually make finished pieces before submitting the proposal.

When I wrote this proposal to the Dayton Metro Library ReImagining Works proposal review board I wanted to share an image of what the final piece might look like. I wanted to convince them how appropriate the sculptures would be for the reading terrace but all the images were in my head. Describing my thoughts in words might help, but images would help more. 

I didn't want to go through the effort to make metal mock-ups for the proposal, they might give the false impression that the pieces are too finished and the image ideas "locked in". So I ruled out creating a mock-up in metal. It had to be a sketch to show that there was room for change, and besides I didn't have time to even make even one mock-up out of metal since the proposal had to be in quickly. Would a sketch get the idea across sufficiently? And would one sketch be sufficient? There were eight panels in my plan, but I hadn't picked all eight subjects yet and I wasn't going to figure that out in time and make eight sketches. I only wanted to portray one example so that it gave an impression. The constraints were starting to box me in.

I tried some pencil sketches but they didn't get the idea across enough. Mostly I used them to figure out how I would create a Sheeler-like sky across that big expanse of open sky. Because it was going into a fence where people could touch it I couldn't have open sections of sky.  It also needed to allow light to come through and still differentiate the different fractured sections of sky. I understood these sketches, they taught me a lot, and could extrapolate out to the final pieces but could the proposal review board? Would they put in the time to imagine? Or did it have to be instantly understood without the effort of too much imagining?
 
I needed another way. I thought about inking the sketch because one thing that bothered me about the pencil sketches was that the pencil wasn't "solid" enough. The sketches looked unsubstantial since you could see the pencil lines instead of solid areas where the metal would be. The viewer would have to imagine the pencil areas as solid. Making ink sketches might work better to depict solid areas but inking the image would take a long time. Besides when I pulled out my Rapidographs I found that I had put them away with ink in them. It would take a day of soaking to re-hydrate them, clean them, and make them usable again. No, I needed a quicker and more illustrative means to sketch the panels as sculptures.

I decided that since the sculptures were going to be cutouts I was going to do cutouts for the sketches. I took some black art paper and did some sketches on it in pencil. I tried a simple building shape with sky, and I tried a fractured sky treatment. The test worked. I liked the use of cut out paper. It would work for the sketch. But I didn't like the treatment of the sky. I didn't like that there were solid bars connecting and separating the sky areas. 


















So I tried a different treatment for the sky where I had no solid bars and created the separation between sections just by the edges of the band-width-changes creating an illusion of a line. This very effectively separated the areas without the added visual weight of solid bars separators. I chose to use Memorial Hall as the subject. I did a simple composition in the cutout black paper. 

Sketch: Memorial Hall
 
This sketch illustrates what one of the eight panels might look like. This is not the final subject or the final depiction but is meant to demonstrate the intended simplification of architecture into patterns and the fractured sky. I did not fracture or make buildings translucent and overlap them like Sheeler did. I thought that in a sculpture for a public place that would be too difficult to visually interpret unless I used multiple layers of sculpture.

This sketch is cut out of black paper so viewers had to do some imagining. In the final sculpture what is black in this sketch will be metal. The white spaces in this sketch will be open space allowing light to pass through creating the foreground and background of the image.

This approximation of the sculpture did much better than pencil sketches to get my intention across. I think of sketches, mockups, and maquettes as successive approximations of a final piece. It was valuable for me to go through the stages of moving "up" that continuum of successive approximations and find the sweet spot between "so sketchy that only I could imagine what I was suggesting", and "so complete and finished that it was indistinguishable from the final sculpture".  I got minimal but early feedback from friends and family that my paper cutouts were substantial enough that a viewer (the proposal review board) could quickly grasp what I was proposing. That was a good thing because I had spent what little time there was to make these sketches for the proposal and I got the proposal in on the last day possible!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Church / No Church Decision for Sculpture

For my sculptures I chose the subject theme of Old North Dayton buildings that are important to the community. I opened up the theme to include current buildings or historic buildings that no longer exist.

After my research, and with the guidance of wonderful Old North Dayton experts, I learned that the North Dayton community churches are a very important, integrated part of the vibrant Old North Dayton community. But there will be no churches in my six sculptural panels.

St. Adalbert Polish Catholic Church by Wdzinc
I saw images of several churches and they were aesthetically wonderful subjects for my sculptures. I could easily imagine their design as sculptures. Yet I chose not to depict any churches for several reasons.

Number: There are more churches than there are panels planned for my sculptures. I couldn't depict all the churches and still depict other North Dayton buildings. There simply wasn't enough room without fundamentally changing what I was designing for the commission.

Picking: Could I include only one church? Which one? How could I pick one church and not depict another one? I couldn't be partial, I couldn't be inclusive, and I wasn't going to show favoritism of one church building over another for any reason - even aesthetics.

Even if there was enough space, and if I could change the rendering layout to include them all, there were the issues of detail, perspective and size.

Detail: In the sculptural panels I'm going to take broad liberties with the images of the buildings. I'm going to greatly simplify their images to represent the buildings not to depict them. There will be a great loss of detail - on purpose - to create the style effect I'm imagining. Would someone take offense at my over-simplifying their ornate church?

Perspective: I'm going to choose perspectives of the buildings that work best for the use of space in the panel and may, like Charles Sheeler, take liberties with the reality of how the buildings actually look. Would the perspectives I'm choosing for layout aesthetics not show off the features the congregation loves about their building?

Size: Since all the panels are the same size I'm going to be adjusting the size of the buildings to fit the panels rather than depicting them in their real sizes relative to each other. Big and small buildings will likely take up the same amount of space on the sculptural panels.

Position: If I could work through all of this I still have to pick an order and positions in the fence around the reading terrace. How could I negotiate the position of one panel vs. another? What if there is a spot that is perceived as the "best" spot; which church gets that spot?

I want my sculptures to be part of the community. I want them to bring people together and inspire pride for Old North Dayton. I don't want to do something that would create friction or accidentally offend any one group.

I'd love to do sculptures of the churches because I think they would make great subjects, but these will have to be future sculptures OF the churches FOR the churches and not part of the art work for Electra C. Doren Library. No churches for the sculptures at Electra C. Doren.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Subjects, inspiration, and alternative themes

I chose the architecture of Albert Pretzinger for the subject inspiration of my sculptures. But as you will see I left that decision flexible and the subject evolved in a very different direction.

I locked down the style inspiration to Charles Sheeler's Stacks in Celebration but I left the door open to alternatives for the subject inspiration. It is not that I didn't care about the subject, instead I saw that I could achieve my goals for the sculpture with a wide variety of subject matter and I wanted to leave the decision open until I could do more research and get feedback from the patrons of the commission;  the DML ReImagining Works art board.

Commercial Building - Photo by Greg Hume
In the request for proposals from ReImagining Works it mentioned that the Electra C. Doren library building was designed by Albert Pretzinger so I did some homework on Pretzinger.  Pretzinger and his firm were the architects for a lot of buildings in the Dayton area. They were responsible for many of Dayton's iconic buildings. Plenty of buildings to choose from for subject inspiration.  I thought it would be a great connection to use them as the subject for the sculptures connecting Dayton history and this specific library building. 

I decided to make eight sculpture panels based on the size and the arrangement of the fence section plans. That gave me a lot of space to work with. Each panel would have depicted a different Dayton building by Pretzinger or his firm.  I hadn't chosen the final set of buildings at the time of the proposal. The list of potentials includes the Electra C. Doren library itself, the Commercial Building, Memorial Hall, Dayton Daily News building, the First Lutheran Church, Fire Station 14, the Reibold building, and many others.



I liked the idea of including Electra C. Doren library as the subject of one of the panels. And I liked the physical presence of MemorialHall (also by Pretzinger) so I wanted to include that one too. Other than these two I knew there were several good building images of Pretzinger's work that would make great aesthetics for the remaining 6 panels.

I felt that the Pretzinger theme this was an appropriate theme for Dayton's industrial history as celebrated through it's monumental public buildings. But there were other ways to honor Dayton that I entertained and put in the proposal to offer to the patrons of the commission:

  • Alternative 1: Iconic Architecture - Instead of just Pretzinger’s architecture I could depict iconic Dayton architecture regardless of who designed it.

  • Alternative 2: Invention - Instead of Dayton architecture I could depict Dayton’s history of invention and/or manufacturing; e.g. flight, cash registers, zipper, pop-top, heart-lung machine, steel furnace, ice cream cone, etc. all invented in Dayton.

The board liked my style and subject proposal but suggested a variation on my alternatives. They suggested that the sculptures include buildings important to the North Dayton neighborhood of this library branch and not just Pretzinger's and not just iconic downtown Dayton buildings. They asked if I could include 3 panels on buildings just from North Dayton.

My first reaction was; "Does North Dayton have anything more than houses? I need a tour guide to learn more about North Dayton." I was showing my ignorance but the board was very helpful and connected me to experts in North Dayton. I got the insights I needed and suggested back to the board that ALL the panels be North Dayton buildings.  More on how I got to that decision in another post ...

Friday, October 3, 2014

Decision factors for switching metal for sculptures

When the metal fabricators for my sculpture suggested switching to aluminum from steel, and from laser-cut to water-cut, I had several questions. I needed to research these things to find the switch acceptable. I’m familiar with molten aluminum from casting sculptures but I've never worked with sheet aluminum. I'm sure more questions will come up as we proceed but here's what I started with:

  • Why are the fabricators suggesting a thicker aluminum (1/4 inch) instead of thinner steel (1/8 inch)? In what ways is 1/4 inch aluminum equivalent to 1/8 inch steel?
  • What is a comparison of aluminum and steel on durability, strength, and impact resistance?
  • Does the fabricator have example photos of their previous cut sheet aluminum at this thickness that I can compare to steel?
  • I'm familiar with laser cut metal, but what kind of edge does water cutting aluminum leave? Are there any burrs on the far side? How clean is the cut edge?
  • I know cast aluminum has fracturing issues especially when thin. I’d like to know if there are any restrictions on how small an area of aluminum I can put in my design without risking fracturing under normally expected impacts. I’d also like to know if directionality of the shapes is an important factor at all with respect to fracturing.
  • Does the fracturing of aluminum change with age and exposure to weather?
  • What are the different possible surface finished for sheet aluminum? Smooth, brushed, etc.
  • What is the comparable cost of a sheet of aluminum and a sheet of steel?
  • Related to cost is it attractive for people to steal aluminum? Will the switch to aluminum make it more likely that someone would steal the sculpture for scrap metal?
  • Attachment method: If we switch to aluminum what attachment methods can be used and what can't be used?
  • Are there aluminum alloys that are better for outdoor use like there are with steel?
  • I want to see and touch a sample of the sheet aluminum in the thickness proposed. I want to take this sample with me. I need that tangible object to help me imagine what the final piece will look like. I'd like to cut a mockup of a portion of my design in the proposed metal.
  • How does the aluminum age? What will the surface look like over time? What coating we can put on the aluminum?
  • What maintenance is required for the aluminum especially if it is not coated or colored?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Shifting from Steel to Aluminum

Crucible_steel_button By Jlahorn
I chose to use steel for my sculptures for the Electra C. Doren library. But now they will be made from aluminum. Here's how I got there:

Aluminium_bar_surface_etched - by Heinrich Pniok  


I had two concerns and two goals when picking the metal. The concerns were theft, and the cost/size tradeoff. The goals were aesthetics and relevance.

Theft: Since this is an outdoor sculpture I didn't want to create a sculpture that was attractive to theft. The panels are big (about 2 feet by 4 feet) but not so big that their size would deter theft. At that size they look cartable (if you could get them out of the fence). So I didn't want to use copper, bronze, or brass since I was concerned that the value of those metals would be an invitation to theft. If I use steel, and leave it unpainted, it looks unattractive to steal. It's not worth the effort to steal it for scrap metal.

Cost / size tradeoff: The Dayton Metro Library set a budget for this project in the ReImagining Works initiative. As I chose metals I knew that the base costs are widely different. As the cost of the metal choice goes up the number of panels or the panel sizes I could create would go down. I felt that there needed to be a significant number of sculptures to complement the size of the reading terrace. I thought that one panel out of an expensive metal would not be sufficient - better to have more panels of a less-expensive metal.

Aesthetics: I wanted to use a metal that would look appropriate for the setting and steal would work well with the earthy-colored pavers, red brick of the library, and a dark colored fence. It would age well starting off bright and patina over time to a strong warm color. Plus it would not take much maintenance other than soft cleaning.

Relevance: Steel fits in with Dayton's manufacturing history perfectly. And it worked with the industrial theme of the Sheeler painting I used as inspiration.

However, in working with the Dayton Metro Library, their architects, construction company, fence installer, and fence fabricator an overriding concern became obvious. The library would get a 30-year warranty for the fence from their fence fabricator if that company was the one who fabricated and integrated my sculptures into the fence. I couldn't easily match that using my fabricator and negotiate a similar warranty with the other companies to join in a warranty - not in the time or budget allocated to me. As long as I could have artistic control and quality assurance on the fabrication it was the better decision to go with their fabricator.

Somewhere along the way as part of design changes the fence went from being a steel fence to being an aluminum fence. Plus when we considered how the panels would be attached we settled on welding. Since we're welding we didn't want to be joining dissimilar metals by welding a steel sculpture into an aluminum fence. When two dissimilar metals are connected they create an electro-chemical reaction which causes one of the metals to corrode faster. Steel and aluminum in combination outdoors are highly prone to corrosion.

So given the concerns about corrosion of dissimilar metals and the 30 year warranty we switched to making the panels out of aluminum. We lost the strong relevance to Dayton but aesthetically I've looked at the aluminum and, depending upon the finish that we use, it should be aesthetically pleasing. Cost and size still have to be worked out but they should be close. And aluminum will be no more tempting to steal than steel.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sculptural Vision and Storytelling

The sculptures I'm creating for the ReImagining Works project for the Electra C. Doren library are a site-specific sculpture meant to become part of the library experience. I wanted to propose something that will be an integrated part of the library's reading terrace which was not built at the time of my proposal.

I could imagine the reading terrace from the architectural drawings and extend this vision to include my sculptures. I wanted the art review board reading the proposal to experience that vision and not just see sketches and read descriptions of what I was proposing to build.

I decided that telling a story would be the best approach. I thought that if I could tell a story then the people reading it could feel it in addition to seeing the sketches. I wanted them to imagine they were using the reading terrace and my sculptures were part of their story.

Here is what I included as a descriptive vision in my proposal:
"As you sit on the E.C. Doren library reading terrace, the North Dayton neighborhood you are sitting in ties you to Dayton’s industrial traditions. And so do your immediate surroundings. You are encircled by new sculptural images that unite you with that history.

To your left the sunlight pierces through an image of the heroic Memorial Hall, to your right the stalwart Reibold building reflects the setting sun, and another view gives you glimpses of the confident Dayton Daily News building. Everywhere you look around the terrace fence other inspirations are there as well. And behind you is the Electra C. Doren library, itself part of that history, restored and revitalized. 

These images are silhouette steel cutout sculptures built as an integral part of the fencing rail that borders the reading terrace, and give your library experience a sense of place. They are designed to invite you to contemplate their patterns and inspire you to be part of Dayton’s industrial spirit. Their vibrant reflections, solidity and playfulness are letting you know that the Dayton spirit of making things is still alive. "

Now that I'm reading this and imagining that setting sun I'm not sure I got it's orientation to the panels correct. Let me check out the library on Google Maps ...
Photo Credit: Google Maps
OK I got it wrong. It won't be the setting sun but the daytime southern exposure that will fall on most of the panels. The setting sun will fall on the library wall behind the terrace. I also didn't take into account what seasons of the year library patrons will actually be sitting outside reading! :^) 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Steel sculpture decisions - the magpie response

I chose to use to use sheets of #304 stainless steel alloy for my sculptures at the Electra C. Doren library. This is a steel you and I see everyday in auto trim, outdoor electrical enclosures, storage tanks, and other items you pass each day without thinking; "I wonder what that's made of?" This metal is designed for outdoor use. It will not easily rust or corrode. It is the same alloy used in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Photo Credit: Gateway arch
2001 Rick Dikeman
I want to use the steel in the raw state with a brushed surface. The steel will start off a shiny silver and patina over time into a deep earthy metallic gray-silver. Once the patina has settled the sculptures will be stable for many, many years. The sculptures will not require significant maintenance in this raw state. Periodic cleaning will not negatively impact them. 

I had to be practical about durability, weight, and costs. I selected steel sheets of 1/8 of an inch thick. This will be solid enough for durability and inflexible enough for fencing. At this size it won't burden the structure with weight. A panel two and a half feet by four feet will weigh approximately 57 pounds before it is cut. Given that the pattern of each panel will be different, their weights will be different. I approximate that the finished panels will weigh between 30 and 40 pounds each. This should be fine for incorporation into the fence sections. 

Aesthetically I want the sculptures to be noticeable and cause people to have the magpie response; "Oooh look - shiny metal!" and be compelled to take a closer look. It is possible to paint the metal or to apply typical fencing coatings, but I would rather not. I believe that the raw steel is the appropriate aesthetic fitting with the industrial Dayton theme. I want there to be a contrast between the fence, the environment of the terrace, the surroundings, and the piece itself.  I want it to have distinguishable boundaries and not be seen as an extension of the fence, but rather that the fence is a frame for the sculpture. 

I will work with the architects and the fence installers to see the materials that will be used for the walls, pavers, and fencing to see if the raw steel will work aesthetically with the surroundings. 


After discussing options with my friend, master sculptor Jim Mills of Sculpturecast, if raw steel does not work aesthetically with the other elements we can reduce the painting maintenance by using Imron paint by DuPont which is the same paint used on jet planes and will last without re-coating for 20+ years. Or we can choose one of the fence coatings that has similar durability. Ordinary exterior house paint will also work but that is not a good option since it would need to be repainted more frequently.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Visiting the future site of my sculptures

For my sculptures that will be part of the Electra C. Doren public library's renovation I proposed to create eight silhouette steel cutout sculptures for the fence railing of the reading terrace.

But when I wrote the proposal all I had was the descriptions in the ReImagining Works Request For Proposal (RFP) and architectural plans and elevations of the proposed library reading terrace to work from. Great information, but not really enough for what I needed. I'd never been to that branch of the library. I use the branch closer to my home and the Main branch downtown. So I had no mental image of the Electra C. Doren branch or the neighborhood or environment. I knew I was creating a site-specific piece of art and so I had to go to the site even though the terrace had not been built yet and all I was likely to see was an empty back yard.

After I saw the drawings in the RFP I had three different ideas to propose but I decided that I had to see the library to help me decide which of these three ideas was the best idea for the site. A guiding principle of ReImagining Works is that you can submit as many proposals as you like, but you should only submit proposals for work that, if you are chosen, you can actually deliver for the stated value of the commission and on time. Don't over commit, get chosen, and then not deliver. So I knew I was only going to put one proposal in. Besides I only had a month from RFP announcement to the proposal due date - hardly enough time for three proposals. After all, I do have a day-job :^). Going to the site was going to be a critical decision moment for me. Wow, was that an important thing do to.

Electra C. Doren branch library
Photo credit: Darren Kall

I immediately knew more than the drawings could convey. The space was much smaller than I imagined from the drawings. It is different to see 35 feet on a drawing and to actually see 35 feet. The drawings don't convey the lighting, the neighborhood, the surrounding trees (or lack there of), the views of the site from neighboring places, etc. All of these factored into my proposal design and decisions. Plus being there added motivation: I had to have this commission. I had to put something in this place - it was a great space that needed artwork.

Back yard of Electra C. Doren library
Photo credit: Darren Kall


One of my three ideas raised in it's importance because I saw that there were no big shade trees near the reading terrace since big trees had to be cut down to put the terrace in. And I knew that the trees in the planned landscaping would take a long time before they would cast sufficient shade for readers on the terrace. Another one of my ideas was eliminated on the spot. While it was a great idea, now that I was there, I didn't think it would be seen from outside the terrace and since the terrace was smaller than I thought there would not be enough angles to see the piece from on the terrace to show it at it's best. (I'll write more about why these ideas both got dropped in another posting.) And it was clear to me that the sculpture in the fence idea was very appropriate. The sculptures would be seen and prominent from anywhere in the terrace, from the sidewalk, and even across the side street where there was a busy parking lot for a store.

Side view of back yard of Electra C. Doren library
Photo credit: Darren Kall
In hindsight I now know that at that moment, standing there on the site, I had chosen to submit the sculptures for the fence idea. I didn't know I'd made the decision then because it took me a while to let go of the sculptural shade idea. It took learning how impractical my idea was by asking questions at an RFP artists informational  meeting held by Jane Black, Director of Engagement at The Dayton Art Institute and the project manager for ReImagining Works. (More about what I learned in another post.)


But after that onsite visit, every time I imagined the site,  I kept seeing the sculptures in the fence. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pretzinger as inspiration for sculpture subject

While it was not a requirement of the ReImagining Works commission I chose to have a subject inspiration as well as a style inspiration. I chose the Dayton architecture by Albert Pretzinger and his architectural firm as my subject inspiration to accompany my choice of Charles Sheeler's Stacks in Celebration as my style inspiration. 

Albert Pretzinger’s work is iconic Dayton. Pretzinger' firm designed my favorite Dayton building; Memorial Hall. The exterior is imposing and causes viewers to wonder “What’s inside?” Drawn by that curiosity I've rented Memorial Hall for my team meetings several times and have been given the backstage tour of this grand building. Dayton has valuable architectural properties like Memorial Hall and many of them are due to Pretzinger and his firm over the years.

The two inspirations tie together nicely. They share an inspirational historical time, when grand visions of the future and the promise of industry were strong American cultural motivators. They come from a time when grand public edifices and substantial human creativity were creating big changes for America.

The Electra C. Doren branch building, having been designed by Pretzinger, represents the distinctive personality of its time, and makes a perfect setting for other Dayton architectural icons. I plan to make one of the sculptures include an image of the Electra C. Doren building.

Sheeler’s fractured images of smoke stacks and buildings were influenced by cubism where viewers actively collaborated with the artwork by assembling the multi-faceted view of what they saw into a whole experience.  I’m proposing to dramatically simplify the lines of Pretzinger’s architecture into flat sculptural patterns, and to create a fractured sky behind them. This will, I hope, like Sheeler, create an engaging and collaborative viewing of the sculptures where viewers assemble the patterns of foreground and background cutouts into a whole and stimulating experience.