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!