Tuesday, May 26, 2020

'Last to Sea' #10 : Explaining the Expansion?

 A comment on Communication and the Artist's Vision

image by Kelly Probyn-Smith

So there it is.
What do you see?

A big green net with some shadowy stuff inside.

Ok, go over and peak a bit closer.

Ok - that is obviously a shark!
And some dancing small fish shapes.
Hey, is that a horseshoe crab?
Some kind of weird plant like thing at the back. And a lumpy plate of come sort.
What is that strange shell like thing?
And no idea what the cluster of what looks like flowers is supposed to be?
Oh, yea, there is a pile of plastic bottles over the top.

Anything on that name plate?

Ah. 'Last to SEA', very funny, obviously a pun.

I don't get it...

As those who are regular readers may have glimpsed, that those that actually know me well understand : I have a love / hate relationship with 'the Arts'. Most specifically the tension between the 'practical' (Craft) and the 'conceptual' (Art).
There is a long discussion (read argument) about the difference between the useful and the symbolic, especially in the Modern Age.

It can be said that 'the Purpose of Art is to Communicate'.
Does that mean that for a work to be considered 'successful', it needs to clearly communicate the idea of the Artist?

On that scale, is 'Last to Sea' successful?
Is it enough, now that the work is presented to the viewing public, for me to just stand back? Take an attitude of 'Well, if you don't understand, that is just your failing!' ( 1)

I would be the very first to fully admit that some of my past offerings at the Elora Sculpture Project have been merely 'pretty', or just 'eye catching' (consider 'Spears of Summer' in 2014). On some, the under laying concepts have been simple (consider 'Barrel Turbine' in 2016). Or if more complex, may not have been easily apparent (consider 'Legacy' in 2018) ( 2 )

If any readers have been wondering why I have written a quite extensive set of commentaries on the thought behind, and technical production of, 'Last to Sea'? ( 3 )

Last year, for the first time since my initial contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project in 2013, I was able to attend the opening reception. Almost all the participating artists were there, and as we did a walk through of all the submitted sculptures, each of us gave a brief overview of our pieces. I personally found the whole process extremely interesting. As you might guess, some pieces were more technical than conceptual. Often I found the intended meanings not clear on first seeing the work. It was obvious to me that much would be lost to the viewing public without these background explanations.

To me, the obvious method to provide the public with these further insights was through use of the internet. ( 4 ) This year, with the threat of COVID-19 looming, the ESP people had specifically asked the contributing artists to make attempts to record their individual working process as each sculpture was created.

'Last to Sea' involved considerably more research in detail than past submissions. This a process that really started for me with the 2019 proposal 'Last to See', a work framed around the concept of past Mass Extinction events, leading to the current Holocene event. (In this, I had started applying the kind of research I normally undertake for artifact reproductions and experimental archaeology, both much detailed on this blog, to artistic works.)
Much of that research would remain totally invisible. The normal viewer of 'Last to Sea' is unlikely to be able to identify the individual species represented, beyond the two most obvious, 'Shark' and 'Horseshoe Crab'. Although 'Abalone' is a very faithful depiction and 'Tiny Fishes' are recognizably Capelin, I would not expect most people to recognize these lesser known species.
And for the reason these specific types have been illustrated?
Honestly, it was my own shock on finding out during the research phase these were all the Endangered List that made me pick these species in the first place (I mean - SHARKS! Who would have imagined?)

One final aspect, mentioned above, is the current evolution of COVID-19, with all the impacts from this pandemic on each of us right now. ( 5 )
The normal installation deadline for the ESP each year is around May 1st. As we moved from the jury notification (typically about February 15) into the production phase over March, the increasing closures effected many of the contributing artists. Many working in more complex materials needed access to other skilled trades to progress from initial stages to finished objects (think of those working in bronze, who normally would make a master pattern, but rely on foundries for the physical castings). With so many suppliers deemed 'non-essential' and thus closed, getting specific raw materials hampered others. ( 6 )
Because of these factors, the installation date for this year had been pushed back several times.

There of course was the over riding problem of pure economics. The individual situation here for participating artists I suspect varied considerably. Curiously, those who supported themselves full time from their artistic work might have been in the best possible situation, as most certainly I found myself qualifying for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. Those with 'regular day jobs' likely found their personal economic situations widely different under work reductions or outright closure, even complete job loss for some.
A factor to note here is that none of the participating artists involved in the ESP are actually paid at all for their work. Each of us must front the production costs, as well as provide the creation time required for our proposed contribution, as well as undertaking the installation and removal. Each of us in effect 'lends' the completed work to Elora for the length of the presentation (normally May 1 to October 31). It is true that the sculptures can be offered for sale (with delivery only after the full presentation period). Realistically, I don't think purchases of the works displayed actually are all that common. ( 7 )

So personally, I have considered the funds I have received (thankfully!) from the CERB have gone to support my ability to undertake the creation of this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project. ( 8 )
For me undertaking this (extensive!) documentation of this specific project is also part of a responsibility I feel against those CERB funds.

The previous blog articles covering the research behind, design concepts and physical production of 'Last to Sea' :

Friday, January 10, 2020
‘Last to Sea’
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP
Saturday, April 11, 2020
'Elkhorn' : ESP
Thursday, April 30, 2020
'Last to Sea' #2 - Abalone
Saturday, May 02, 2020
'Last to Sea' #3 - Horseshoe Crab
Saturday, May 09, 2020
'Last to Sea' #4 - Sea Turtle
Monday, May 18, 2020
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 6 : Tiny Fishes
Thursday, May 21, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 7 - Shark
Monday, May 25, 2020
'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

It should also be noted that the typical blog posting in this series has taken between 2 - 4 hours to research, write and compose.

( 1 ) I always remember something my instructor had told us during one of my first year design courses at Ontario College of Art :
'Inspiration without Technique is masturbation'
I would suggest adding to this :
'Concept without Communication is meaningless self indulgence.'

( 2 ) Or in at least one case, an outright technical failure, 'Tipping Point' in 2019, where I certainly failed on the mechanical workings. There was a more complex set of symbolism with this work, which honestly I don't think was communicated at all to the viewer.
Embarrassingly, feel that piece failed in both the aspects given above!

( 3 ) In past years, I have always provided a version of the all the original submissions, usually expanded with extra comments. There is at least a second posting, showing the final piece as installed (allowing comparison to the initial concept drawing). Often there will be some 'work in progress' additions as well. Contributing artists are allowed to submit two different proposals every year, and most years I have published the description of a second (unused) sculpture.

( 4 ) Over the last several years, as my own proposals for the ESP have become more and more 'social commentaries', I have been suggesting that the general ESP web site be expanded to include just this kind of detailing. At the very least, each original submission the the jury had included both a 'Description of the Work' and an 'Artist's Statement'.

( 5 ) I am certain it will be recognized, looking back in years to come that the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will be seen to be Human Impact / Climate Change story. Too many of us, altering too much of the Natural World.

( 6 ) Here at the Wareham Forge, a combination of relatively simple materials (industrial steels of various forms) and core level equipment combined with habits born of a rural location and a lifetime pattern of stockpiling supplies. My normal situation here is to keep considerable steel stocks on hand, if for no other reason than I work best when I can let inspiration, not available materials, determine what I create. Blacksmithing at core uses the simplest of tools, the production of the individual components within 'Last to Sea', used mainly hand tools, with the exception of an oxy-propane torch and a MIG welder (themselves long standing equipments here).
The only material I did have to purchase this year was a sheet of 2 x 2 square wire grid.

( 7 ) I have been honoured to have had a design selected for each of the years from 2013 to the present. That is a total of 7 sculptures. There is time invested for design, remember that I typically submit two designs each year. Each has taken on average three weeks to build (sometimes more). At least for me, materials costs have never been large, again typically in the $100 - $200 range for each.
I have sold one sculpture of this seven ('Armoured Fish' in 2015)

( 8 ) For a longer discussion of CERB and the Artist, see two related blog postings :

Thursday, April 09, 2020
'Working' during a Pandemic ...
Friday, April 10, 2020
(Part 2) CERB and ESP


Monday, May 25, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 9 : INSTALLED

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
On Thursday, May 21, I was assisted by Kelly Probyn-Smith of Elfworks Studios in the final installation of 'Last to Sea' at Elora. The site is to the East side of the small park in the heart of Elora, at the corner of Mill and the bridge. ( 1 )

Social Distancing measures not withstanding, my normal practice over the years has been to undertake the installation early on a weekday morning, which allows me to get a parking space close to the mounting point for ease of unloading. This year the weather was perfect, bright and sunny and at the start of our first really warm temperatures of this season.

Placing the base (KPS)
I was bit concerned at first with the base position, which was right on the edge of the pathway around the east side of the park. The diameter of the overall piece was four feet, and so it was certain to project somewhat on the admittedly very wide pathway. In terms of viewing however, this would allow for close observation into the collection - which will be seen to be important.

Placing the base stone slabs (KPS)
I had taken a reference image of the stone slabs that form the 'ocean floor' part of the piece. The 'Elkhorn' unit was by far the heaviest, and as I had when initially working out the pattern, this unit was laid first, then the other stones around this. You can see 'Abalone' and 'Unknown in the Depths' positioned here as well. These individual sculptures are fixed to their respective stone bases.

Bottom stones placed (KPS)
The last two elements that sat on the slabs, 'Sea Turtle' and 'Horseshoe Crab', were designed with a cord to allow them to be tied down to the steel gridwork underneath. You can see how the rough limestone slabs cover the majority of the base grid. I had brought a few unusual pot-marked stones that I had gathered from South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. These worked nicely into the overall pattern, covering some of the larger gaps between the irregular shaped slabs.

Top grid with plastic and all sculptural elements in place (KPS)
The next step was to mount the upper grid, which already had the bottles and foam trays attached for the 'Sea of Plastic' element. This structure was secured with tightened nuts through the four upright rods seen here.
Last was hanging the remaining two sculptural elements 'Shark' and 'Tiny Fishes'.
These last two were the most fiddly, partially because Tiny Fishes is a moving element, and it was important to make sure there would be a range of motion possible without potential tangling. (I actually expect at some point over the long installation period, these tiny fish will in fact become 'caught' into the netting!)

Applying the netting (KPS)
I had previously cut to length the nylon fish netting that surrounds the piece. In fact this net was about 15 feet top to bottom (in normal use), so I had simply cut off a four foot wide strip. Since I needed about 13 feet minimum to encircle the four foot diameter, I had already stitched the net into a tube. (You can see this line of yellow cord running down next to my body in the image.) This all means that the fishing net is actually running sideways to its normal direction in use. ( 2 )
Although not difficult, with the net secured at both top and bottom, there were a lot of knots to be tied. This part of the overall installation certainly took the longest.

Completed installation
Overall installation rough
The steps between initial inspiration even to first production layout can have a lot of twists and turns. In the case of 'Last to Sea', I think the design I originally submitted to the ESP jury was faithfully rendered in the finished work.
The main difference I note is in the proportions, the illustration shows the total height to be less, closer to three feet, where the final piece is actually 4 feet tall.
Another difference is the detailing on the 'Shark' element, where the original proposal was for a rigid, 3D construction.
You will see in the layout there had originally been two coral types, the second was replaced by the 'Unknown in the Depths' element in the final work.

with the artist (KPS)
Standing back - showing the placement
One thing that became clear, once the work was done and we had a chance to stand back.
'Last to Sea' is a large piece. From a distance, the bright green of the fishing net dominates the view, with the individual creature sculptures within mere shadows.

Through the net (KPS)
As you come closer, peering through the net allows you to see the creatures in detail.

Just what are those shapes?
Why are they included?

Next up : Commentary on the Artist's Vision

( KPS ) Images by Kelly Probyn-Smith - used with permission

( 1 ) If you plan to visit Elora, be warned that the bridge crossing the Grand at the centre of of town is closed and under construction. For access from the south Guelph or Kitchener from the south-west, you will have to loop up on County Road 7, then turn east down David Street to get to the downtown area where all the sculptures are located.

( 2 ) Hopefully any real fishers seeing the completed installation will not scoff too much at this. And most especially at the (amateurish!) knot work. As it turned out, with both of us working on the tying up, two quite different methods (neither of them likely to be correct) were in use.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 8 : Awash in a Sea of Plastic

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
A group of ocean creatures are confined within the circle of a plastic fishing net, ‘drowned’ by clear plastic water bottles. Can they be more than glimpsed through that mass of human waste?
One of the things that strongly influenced the whole concept behind 'Last to Sea' was watching the documentary 'Ocean Blue' which centres around oceanographer (and pioneer) Silvia Earle. As the film traces over a lifetime of exploration and discoveries, it also illustrates many returns to those significant locations. The comparison between then (1960's) and now are absolutely shocking.

Through this all, runs the heavy hand of human impact.

If not forever, humans have used the ocean as if an endless resource - and as a garbage dump. Foul harbours or rivers at cities have been a known result for centuries now. 'Out of sight - out of mind' attitudes have shaped human practices towards our own waste and the seas. This perhaps could be accepted in early history, when almost all of that waste was at least organic, and overall there were not that many of us.

Over the last 100 years, the two barrels in the pollution shot gun have been exploding human populations and the massive increase in artificial materials - the plastics. Plastics will last centuries in the environment.
The accumulation of 'Microplastics' has been a contamination element of major concern over the last decade especially. Those floating water bottles may be breaking apart and out of sight - but the pieces still clog the waters.

Adding disposable plastic to the upper frame
I chose to use three main representations of plastic waste to 'Last to Sea'.
The choice was primarily based on my own practical availability of single use plastic. - I had a large number of clear disposable water bottles left over from the construction of 'Legacy' my contribution to the 2018 Elora Sculpture Project.
- Fruit juices we purchase are split evenly between frozen concentrates (packed in combination metal and cardboard) and those in larger plastic bottles. Over the two months constructing 'Last to Sea' I collected only three of these.
- Our personal economic situation dictates the purchase of a lot of 'day old' foods, typically vegetables. These all come packed on Styrofoam trays.
- Some small tools and sundries purchased for the Wareham Forge come inside plastic 'blister packs'. Annoying as I personally find these, they are almost impossible to avoid.
The selection of largely clear plastics was intentional, to permit light down over the sculptural elements underneath.
Water bottles certainly were the largest type. For Elora, with the ongoing controversy over industrial water extraction and bottling, this provides another 'topical' component.

The last major example of ocean plastics was the use of a fishing net to frame and contain the overall installation. This was part of a section of green nylon net from the commercial fishery I picked up beach combing on my last trip to Newfoundland (in 2017). Although found cast off along the shore, the section of net I found was brand new, roughly 15 feet wide by a piece about 20 feet long.
Used for a method called 'drift netting', historically these nets were mainly made of hemp (so degraded in the environment) and had larger mesh sizes that allowed smaller species / immature fish to pass through. Starting in the 1950's however, synthetic materials became the standard, and mesh sizes decreased (ie - smaller fish caught) ( 1 ).  As boats became larger, drift netting increasingly became the most 'profitable' commercial method.
Leaving aside the whole (massive) problem of 'by-catch', the new nylon nets, themselves almost indestructible, become a major environmental hazard when sections break free. In use designed to float near the surface, these 'ghost nets', trap and kill both fish and marine mammals. ( 2 )

Close up of final installation - showing the surrounding net

Last Commentary : Final Installation

( 1 ) Most will remember the 'Turbot War' between Spain and Canada in 1995.
Although primarily framed as a fight over territorial waters, use by European ships of small sized nets (harvesting under-aged fish) was an additional part of the dispute.

( 2 ) None of this is in any way intended to be a direct criticism of the people I know from Northern Newfoundland who are involved in the Fishery. Truthfully, none of those people do more than take limited, seasonal, deck work - on large (and massively expensive) boats owned by others - or increasingly major corporations. People I know personally most certainly have no control what so ever over current fisheries methods.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

the 'Viking' Chair ....

Yet another New Age Cash Cow design.

Duplicated from that web site *

(the following expanded from a recent small group discussion)

The discussion had started with a reference link to a video posted on 'BongBong' (1) :
The presenter there gives absolutely no historic / source reference, beyond 'I saw this at a friend's place' (so alarm bells most certainly should be ringing?)

I had first seen this design in the mid 1970's. At that point it was part of the 'Nomadic Furniture' movement.
The name back then was 'star gazer' chair.

A fast internet search?


Attributes published plans through the Boy Scouts of America back to the 1930's

https://www.craftsmanspace.com/free-projects/bog-chair-plan.html (2)
" The chair may often be associated with the Vikings and the peoples that used to live in the north of Europe, but there is actually no evidence to prove where exactly it first came from. Some artifacts indicate that, most probably, this type of chair originated from Africa. The chair came to Europe in the 19th century, and it was popular in the early 20th century. "

I thought I had seen the design in the original 'Nomadic Furniture' book (from about 1976). I remember the design being a bit different - with a jig saw used to make a long U shaped cut into a single plank. This gave the upright to back board two narrow feet. (This making sense?) I did check my 'new and revised' copy of that book - and did not find an illustration. I know I have notes in a drawing book from those days - someplace.

The chain of 'association with the Vikings' is itself an interesting piece of 'fake-lore'.

As Bruce says, the design was seen at 'Buckskinner' events in the later 1970's, then quickly adopted into the SCA at events like Pennsic about the same time. From the SCA it appears to have shifted over into 'early period'  camps (where there are very few artifact samples of any seating known.) I had never heard of it referenced as specifically a 'Viking Chair' until start of the whole Viking craze from around 2000 onwards.

Increasingly, with television being the reference (instead of actual history), there is the factor of pure laziness - and has been suggested by others here, simple false descriptions used to cash in.

On construction and durability.
The first versions of these I saw where mainly 12 inch wide by 2 inch commercial lumber. Older version plans I had seen called for 3/4 thick plywood. And often made of hardwood (oak or maple) not modern 'construction grade' spruce!
Given how difficult it is to get wide cut planks these days - I suspect a lot of people are using narrower boards. And as Bruce and Fred would certainly agree, the quality of commercial lumber of late is absolutely pathetic.
Your choice of material here will be critical to both balance and weight bearing...

Packs flat - yes
Easy to make - yes
Cheap to construct - depends
A bit awkward to use - yes
Historic ?
Not a chance - blame some old hippies

(1) BongBong describes itself as "The award-winning zine, blog and directory of mostly wonderful things."
From a (very) fast look over the offerings, there is a combination of 'maker's space' and political / social commentaries. All supported by an extensive on line retail store. (Donated content, likely given for personal fame, someone else getting the income generated - and with you giving up any copyrights to submitted materials.)

(2) That web site certainly had very clear plans (as pdf downloads) and easy to follow instructions!

* Images used without permission! - Original source links supplied.
I have started copying, saving and directly posting images sourced off the internet. This is because when I look back to earlier entries here, increasingly I am finding images missing, as web sites simply disappear.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 7 - Shark

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'

Overall installation rough
b) Sharks - represented by a larger sculpture ( about 3 feet), made of a series of formed and welded pieces. I was surprised to find so many shark species Endangered (including amazingly the Great White!). Modern types unchanged 200 million years, through 2 Extinction Events.

When I started researching sea creatures to populate this overall collection, the inclusion of sharks on the Endangered list was an absolute shock.
You have got to be kidding me, right?
"... estimations state that about 100 species out of 470 that exist in the world, are in a status of imminent danger to severe..."
"...20 are in danger of extinction..."
from Shark's World
Look, we all know sharks threaten us - not that we threaten them. Is there anything that evokes a more primordial fear than a shark? 
the Great White Shark - with no natural predator (other than humans), is considered 'vulnerable'
I had originally envisioned making a more three dimensional depiction of this animal. composed of a number of dished plates. I had tinkered with ideas for allowing for some articulation as well. These combined into designs that were becoming very complex - easily as much time to produce as the entire rest of the collection put together.
In the end a combination of collapsing available time, and a desire to put potential movement over complexity caused me to simplify the construction.

the Ganges River Shark - on the Critically Endangered list

I had started work using the image of the Ganges River Shark as my reference.
This was going to be the physically largest of the collection, intended to be about 26 inches long. (Life size is up to 70 - 80 inches.) I decided to make up the profile from a set of five individual cut out sections. As I laid these out (drawing free hand) I ended up with a total length closer to 36 inches.
You can see the completed body shape ended up thicker through than the actual Ganges Shark, really more resembling the Great White.
Again torch cut from 1/8 steel plate, the contours were smoothed off with grinding. I deliberately make the cuts inside the mouth especially jagged to suggest the teeth. Here the rough edges from the torch work were hammered flat.
The dividing lines between the sections were cut straight. Articulation was produced by adding a strip of heavy leather on either side, supported by pieces of 3/4 steel flat bar, each set riveted into place.
The two projecting front lower fins were illustrated by welding on a second fin piece, then both fins bent out from the line of the body.

Seen as profile

I had placed a number of holes along the upper edge of the body, as possible attachment points for mounting the completed shark into the installation. Because of the length, to be set inside the total four foot diameter, it would be necessary to use two hanging points, rather than hanging balanced from a single single line.
As you can see in the image above, one support was from the tip of the top fin, the second back towards the rear. This would leave the head and the two rear sections free to move on the leather hinges. Use of two mounts also allowed the body to be set on a more dynamic upwards line.

Seen from the head end, about 90 degrees from the first image
The way the weight would hang from the chosen support points also meant that the body would cant to an angle off the vertical. You can see from this second image the potential to have the body in a fairly life like curved posture.
The use of the heavy plates means that there will not be a lot of motion created by wind force, but there will be some.

The colours seen are the 'tempering' effect caused by the heat of the cutting torch. These are caused by thin surface oxidation, and will fairly quickly disappear as the raw steel starts to rust on exposure to the elements.

Next up : Awash in a Sea of Plastic

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 6 : Tiny Fishes

 Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'

Overall installation rough
 From the original description of 'Last to Sea'
a) ’Tiny Fishes’ - represented by a school grouping, cut from stainless steel sheet and without much detailing. Intended as a reflection of the collapse of the Fishery, how larger species have be hunted beyond viability, so only smaller and smaller fish remain (and are in turn harvested out).

A direct reference to Stan Rogers : 'Tiny Fish for Japan'

My first trip out to Northern Newfoundland was in 1995. Two years after the closing of the Cod Fishery, people were still in a state of shock. Over the years I have returned a number of times to L'Anse aux Meadows. And watch those once fishing cod turn to crab, then turn to shrimp, then to previously undesirable species. (This including 're-branding' types with new, more pleasant names.)
Morning coffee conversations with two marine biologists, billeted at the same B & B in 1996, suggested the following : The total mass of fish in the local oceans was not changing that much. But the larger, top end types were being eliminated, with smaller and smaller fish coming to dominate the total.

Stan Rogers wrote 'Tiny Fish', released as part of the 'From Fresh Waters' album, released in 1984 (after his death). The theme of this collection was actually the Great Lakes, and though the fishermen described are based off Lake Erie (Port Dover the location of the Norfolk Hotel), the situation described might as well be Northern Newfoundland :
So the days run together. Each one is the same
And it's good that the smelt have no lovelier name
It's all just a job now, we'll work while we can
To catch tiny fish for Japan
    via Genius Lyrics
Many of my own early trips out to the St Anthony area were over late May and early June. This is when the Capelin run on to the beaches there to spawn. Every year, the local people gather up these 'tiny fish', who are largest run to only 8 - 10 inches. These days the catch, scooped up by hand, is mainly eaten fresh or frozen. It was not so long back that the fish were dried or smoked. More than one person I came to know around L'Anse aux Meadows remarked '... but there ain't as many as there used to be.'

Capelin coming on to the beach - Northern Newfoundland

The 'Tiny Fishes' element within Last to Sea, was always intended to be simple, just a set of cut out shapes, with no detailing.
I quite intentionally based the profile on capelin, but had simplified the shape to make cutting easier. I deliberately chose to use some scrap stainless steel I had on hand. Several of the resulting fish shapes out of a mirrored finish material. The choice of these bright metals would contrast with the dark fire scale (and eventually rusting) surfaces of all the other pieces.

Individual Tiny Fishes cut out
Once cut out, each of the shapes was given some curvature, suggestive of living fish.
The shapes were hung off several thin wire bars, creating a multi-axis mobile. This would provide movement to what was otherwise a fairly static overall installation. Another feature would be the ability to catch and reflect sunlight, especially off the two mirror finished shapes. Both these aspects (motion and reflection) had been major design elements in earlier works created for the Elora Sculpture Project.

Showing the relationship to the other elements
more of a close up of the Tiny Fishes
These still images of the finished collection of Tiny Fishes, as added into the overall installation, certainly do not represent this element very well.
As I do the final work up of the piece, I have it sitting in the side garden space at the front of the workshop. At four feet diameter, the whole thing barely fits into that space with enough room to let me work around it. The result is an extremely chaotic background to these images.
And of course, the whole set moves. With the small size of the individual shapes (ranging about 5 to 8 inches long), it is the motion that catches the eye.

Next up : 'Shark'

Monday, May 18, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 5 : 'Unknown'

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
One element I had wanted to include into the overall concept of Last to Sea was 'the Unknown'.
" Oceans occupy 70% of the total surface area of the Earth and over 90% of the living space on the planet.
It is said that humans have managed to explore only about 5% of the ocean floor. The remaining 95% of the ocean still remains a mystery. "
from the WorldAtlas web site
How much will be lost to our understanding - destroyed before we ever view it?

Are these plants - or some strange animals? Clustered together on the ocean floor, the group emerges, currents sweeping them all to one direction.

At the time I had proposed Last to Sea, I was not entirely sure how to represent 'the Unknown' within the overall collection. Into early May, as I have been working to complete this overall piece, I have also been involved in a weather vane project. The deadlines for both have shifted to overlapping and extending, pulling my attention from one project to the other.  With bits of time stolen between working sessions on the weather vane, I had gathered some pieces from earlier sculptures that I thought I could pull together into a new element.

'Suess-icle' - 2015
'Spines' - 2013
A secondary concern I had was if I had enough thin, flat, rough, limestone slabs on hand to make up the 'ocean floor' base of the overall installation. I gathered up what I had on hand, including one piece that had previously been used for a smaller sculpture.
'Spines' was more a concept / maquette for what would have worked much better on a monumental scale. A series of 1/4 inch diameter round rods supported the 'floating' stone slab.
'Suess-icle' was one of a number of similar pieces I had made and offered at what turned out to be my last year at Summerfolk. These had started as a forging exercise at a workshop session in February of that year with my close friend David Robertson.
While I had been playing with potential designs related to 'Last to Sea' I had roughed out some organic shapes, inspired from plant forms and my past work forging structural pipe.

I already had the central 'Suess-icle' piece. This was re-forged to suit the size of the based stone, and fit to the overall line of the grouping.

First stage in the forging
Elements combined, before welding together
Each of the 'tube' growths was made from a short length of steel pipe, using two different sizes for variety. First the open end was worked between the tip of the horn and a ball peen hammer to spread the cylinder open. Down about two inches, the pipe was crimped in using a combination of shouldering tools.
A second element was a short length of 1/4 round stock, drawn to a cylindrical point, then formed into a small spiral, and given a slight set of curves.
The outer shell elements were then cut off into the bottom of the crimped area, and the central stem pieces inserted.
These were MIG welded together. The combined units were returned to the forge, and the line marking that joint hammered with the ball peen against over the horn to blend the contours. The stems were then bent into a distorted L shape, each randomly curved.
Three pieces of flat bar were forged to match the alignment of the holes in the stone. The individual elements were then inserted, then welded in place to these strips on the underneath side.
Once all fixed in place, some final adjustment was done by heating individual stems with the oxy-propane torch and tweeking for position and direction within the larger grouping.
'Unknown' as completed
This image is shot more or less looking down - and so does not really represent the three dimensional aspect of the piece as best it might.

Next up ; 'Tiny Fishes'

Saturday, May 16, 2020

’Seeing’ and the Camera

Enshrining Distortions - 'Forged in Fire'

Is what you ’see’ on a YouTube video even remotely what you would see if you were physically at the demonstration?

One of the significant problems in photographing high temperatures is that modern digital imaging systems simply do not respond to visible light the same way the human eye does. This is due primarily because of the way CCD or CMOS sensors, the heart of digital cameras, specifically react to light. This can be confounded by how light metering systems tend to average across an image. This second aspect particularly a problem inside the typical lower room lighting found in most workshops. (1)

For comparison, I looked at a large number of ‘heat by colour’ charts available via an internet search. If you did this, you would find a huge number of potential charts - many of which do not agree, at least in detail. The source web sites range from hobby blacksmith, through to industrial suppliers, and engineering data. I chose to include one from a blog site, primarily because it appeared fairly close to what I personally observe in the forge. (2)
I have chosen to alter that chart slightly, however. It appeared to me on the original source that they had flipped ‘Light Red’ and ‘Orange’ - which I reversed on the version shown below. Even with this adjustment, you can see on this chart that there is almost no difference indicated between ‘Bright Orange Red’ and ‘Light Red’.
On consultation with David Robertson, he suggested the second chart included here. I agree with him that this actually more closely matches what I perceive personally. I have attempted to adjust the two charts so the slots more or less align, but as you see, they do use different ‘slots’ in terms of numbers. The second chart also only provides temperatures in Fahrenheit.

I have also inserted a blue line at the ‘critical’ temperature. ( 3 )
The green line marks the reading off the pyrometer during these tests. Again, I found the ‘Basic Knifemaking’ chart was actually closer to the ‘bright orange’ I perceived for the metal as it was removed from the forge.
One of the big problems with these printed charts is the difference between colour and brightness. That last aspect can not be realistically reproduced with a printed chart.

The images used for this article were shot at the Wareham Forge in early May, using my ‘home built’ two burner gas forge as the heat source. ( 4 ) I freely admit that there are some problems with this equipment, most notably is that at best it will provide working temperatures into the ‘Yellow’ range (visually and as recorded at one point during during this exercise = 1150 C)). I do not consider this forge hot enough to allow forge welding. The images were made at the end of a working session lasting about 2 hours (the forge was fully heated).

Temperatures were recorded using a Omega HH12B digital pyrometer with a type K
thermocouple (rated to 1260 C, for short exposure). This is a fairly good quality piece of equipment, not likely in the hands of most blacksmiths.

I had done an initial set of measurements and photographs, which I was not entirely happy with. The pyrometer readings especially did not match what I was perceiving, typically running about 100 C higher than my experience suggested. The contributions of David and my regular iron smelting partner Neil Peterson were especially helpful here. David reminded me that the ‘burner temperature inside the forge would not be the same as the functional temperature that a piece of metal would climb to. Neil suggested placing the thermocouple inside a block of metal, using drilled out block or piece of pipe.
For the second round of measurements and images, I did just that. I used a piece of 3/8 ID mild steel (schedule 40) pipe, about 8 inches long, and plugged at the far end. This encased the thermocouple for it’s entire length inside the forge. Temperature readings were on going, there was less variation between door closed and open with the pipe covering.
The average reading over the test was 1040 C

I had four different pieces of digital camera equipment available. None of these are new - so should not be considered the current ‘state of the art’. They may however well represent the kind of equipment available by the average user.

1) Digital SLR : Olympus E-300 / 2008
2) Digital ‘Pocket’ (Viewscreen) : Panasonic Lumex DMC-T51 / 2009
3) Cell Phone : Aceatel One Touch A460T/ 2016
4) Digital Camcorder : HP t250 / 2012
- Although all these allow for video recording, the images were made using the ‘still
photograph’ method (including the camcorder).
- The cameras were set using ’basic photo’ setting, automatic focus and exposure. (This especially important for comparison from the Olympus, which had the widest range of possible adjustments.)
- All images taken with ‘available light’, with exposure times variable.
(This explains why many of the images are not very crisp!)

The images were shot on three different working days. I could not get a full series on day one, because I forgot to check the battery power on all of the units (!). Day one and day two used the thermocouple simply laying inside the forge. Day three, the comparison images seen here, used the pipe sheath over the thermocouple.

The first image shows the general set up, this image shot day one - with the Olympus SLR.

This image has exposure determined by the overall low light level in the workshop,
so you can see that the bright interior of the forge is brightly washed out. I have altered the contrast just around the pyrometer screen, so the readout is more visible. Otherwise there has been no post processing of the majority of these photographs, other than reducing the size of the original images. The exception is the cell phone image of the forge interior, which had the red and yellow colour values increased to correct an extremely ‘purple’ tone to the source image. (No idea why this occurs with the cell phone camera?)

The first set of images from the various cameras were framed to include just an interior view of the forge, with a pieces of mild steel bar inside.
What this illustrates is the colour reproduction and ‘washing out’ problems.

Olympus SLR
Lumex Pocket
Acetel Phone (altered to render orange tones)
HP Camcorder (still image)
The second image set are of a 2 x 2 bar cut to a 2 ½ long block. This was set on the anvil fromthe forge, and the image taken quickly. An attempt was made to frame the same view.
What this illustrates is the general ‘bright against dark background’ problem.

Olympus SLR
Lumex Pocket
Acetel Phone (unaltered)
HP Camcorder (still image)
A last set of images was taken of that same block, as it cooled on the anvil, all using theOlympus SLR. The thermocouple was set inside a 1/4 inch diameter hole that had been drilled about 1 inch into the block. These images are framed to include the pyrometer reading at that instant. An attempt was made to capture one image roughly every 50 degrees as it cooled.
You may also note the difference between the image above with this camera (shot at roughly 1030 C) and the first image seen below.

725 - Critical Temperature

The Conclusions :

- It is clear that the various digital photography equipment records the identical situation quite differently.
- It is obvious that both colour and brightness are not accurately recorded.
- Images are most likely to suggest higher temperatures than what were actually present at that instant.
- Video camcorders and most especially cell phones have by far the greatest distortion in both colour and brightness.
- The closer the equipment is to single purpose photography - the more realistic the image colour is.

It should be noted for this set is that I felt overall the Olympus SLR, as a ‘real’ camera, did make the most accurate duplication of what my eyes perceived.
- Complex SLR cameras also have the ability to correct ‘white balance’, which with some experimentation should allow for more accurate colour representation.
- Also individual still images could also be processed after the fact by some software such as Photoshop to better reflect reality.
- Clearly professional filmmakers would also have better skills at accurate representation.

The single most important warning is that generally, what you see on YouTube - is most certainly NOT what you would see if you had been physically present.

One important related caution comes from what I have seen over and over.
You will ‘see’ on video people working steels well down into the low reds. If you realize that the camera is typically showing colour at least one ‘temperature grade’ higher than what is actually the actual case? That means what you are seeing is people actually working their metals well down below the critical range!
Two important considerations :
A) As all the working blacksmiths well know, steel, when at the orange heat, is certainly far more plastic than it might be at a dull red. The same hammer stroke just does far more shaping. Why are you working so hard?
B) If you work the metal below critical? Effectively you are creating microscopic cracks. Fine, you can get away with this when making a fire poker from mild steel.
Bladesmithing? Almost certain to produce catastrophic failure when the finished blade is subjected to the stress of quenching. (How often do you see just this whole thing played out on ‘Forged in Fire’??)

( 1 ) Neil Peterson, who contributed some ideas to this project, has struggled for years with attempting to take accurate images of the inside of our iron smelting furnaces. Both of these problems have made accurate recording of the temperatures involved, into the 1250 C range, especially difficult. Over the last 15 years, he has invested considerable time and research into those problems.

( 2) https://blog.adafruit.com/2016/06/20/the-color-spectrum-of-heated-steel/

( 3 ) For mild steel, the critical temperature is 725 C. This is technically the correct
minimum forging temperature. The critical temperature does vary with carbon content, and with alloy steels.
Minimum recommended industrial forging temperature for 1018 mild steel is 900 C

( 4 ) I had purchased this forge at Quad State a number of years back. The concept was that the air supplied to the burners would be pre-heated by running through a rear mounted exhaust vent - so improving efficiency and thus operating temperatures. In practice, the sharp bend combined with the flattening of the pipes ended up sharply reducing the amount of air available. ‘I never could get it to work’ was the maker’s comment. (I ended up paying less for the forge than the cost of the Kwool board insulation!).

It did need a fair amount of modification to become effective. The biggest new
element was the inclusion of a small fan (scrounged from an air hockey table at the dump). This allowed the correct amount of air forced towards the burners.

Originally prepared for the 'Special Supplement' May 2020 of the Iron Trillium.

February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
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