Discovering a Visual Shorthand: The Making of The Cartographer’s Dilemma

continued from part 1

A Series Of Dilemmas

“Cartographers use an illustrative short-hand to describe geographical features of the real world. This short-hand form of communication is designed to allow the viewer to have an easy baring on the contours and layout of the area depicted on the cartographer’s map. Exaggerated color palettes, lines of various weight and solid fields of color all act as simplified yet concise forms of communication informing the map viewer of the geography depicted. Instead of focusing on the actual details of the full terrain, the user of the map can rely solely on the map to find her way around the area.
“Spoken and written language serves as a way to describe the real world as well. Words are used as a concise method to describe all the vast facets and features of the world and the ways in which we interact with and within it.
“However, are words also just another form of short-hand, simplifying or exaggerating how we see the real word? A culture’s vocabulary has such a huge impact on how it’s members regard the world in which they live. Could it be that the more complex and sophisticated our lexicon becomes, the more removed we are from simply seeing the real world?”

– as described on suboken.com

The ideas and dilemmas philosophy introduced me to were the perfect concepts for me to explore through my art. Creating art wasn’t about making a thing, it was about exploring an idea. Visual art in particular become a new voice through which I could explore the world. During the process of building The Cartographer’s Dilemma (TCD), the individual elements became metaphors of the different aspects of the theme I was tackling. With regard to the completed piece, the more refined the artwork was aesthetically, the clearer the question posed by the artwork’s concept became.

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Discovering a Visual Shorthand: The Making of The Cartographer’s Dilemma

The Cartographer's Dilemma

The Cartograper’s Dilemma

I’ve written how hesitant I am to explain the art pieces I create. However, this past year I have become more comfortable participating in conversations about my work.

While being on-hand during the hanging of the current show, I enjoyed a spontaneous conversation with Abel Floris, owner of Desert Signs and Graphics, and the artist responsible for creating the vinyl lettering for the exhibition. He was curious about my process; in particular how I came to create The Cartographer’s Dilemma (TCD). I summed up the amount of work that goes into each TCD sculpture into a few sentences. I wasn’t trying to be deliberately coy, I was simply eager to hear more of his thoughts on the pieces currently hanging in the show.

After my brief answer, however, Abel replied with a comment that arrested me with enthusiasm. I can’t recall his exact words, but the gist of his comment went something like, “…and just like that, you came up with the idea for the piece.” It wasn’t just the explanation on the concept behind the artwork that he was looking for, but the journey behind reaching the final presentation!
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Hanging The Exhibit

Today was the second day hanging the show. I knew I had dropped off a good number of art pieces for the exhibit, forty-two pieces to be exact. (I’ll steal a smile with Douglas fans, and don’t forget to bring a towel.) But walking into the space this afternoon with almost everything now hung on the walls made this whole adventure all the more real.

The moment that shifted my perspective was when these letters were revealed on the wall.

ImageThe show opens tomorrow, but here’s a sneak peek at some of the work featured in the exhibit.

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If you noticed that The Cartographer’s Dilemma is mysteriously absent from this post, there’s a reason. It’s in the show, but there’s something additional involved in its presentation. I’ll leave you with a coy hint, an update is long over due for The Cartographer’s Dilemma page on the website.

Speaking of web updates, our local newspaper wrote up an article on yours truly. You can give it a read online at: http://www.mydesert.com/article/20131114/LIFESTYLES0104/311140006/

The LEGO Infiltration.

Since April, production on new artwork, music and writing has been locked in overdrive. So much so that about two weeks ago I finally hit a creativity levee. Calista and I had so many things on our plates that, for my part, something had to give.

However, the factors that have been pulling my attention in different directions are 100% positive.

Factor One: An Old Friend Returns.

A great friend of mine, Tyler Maxey, landed back in town for a brief time. He and I were philosophy students at the same college, and it was great to have him hang out with Calista and I, waxing philosophic about life, health, the universe, careers and entertainment. The three of us went on many hiking adventures before the summer heat finally baked us into staying indoors. A highlight of our adventures was spending one Saturday morning bombarding our senses with sonic frequencies.

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I’m not much of a new-age soul, but the experience was well worth the drive to Landers, CA.

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A Suboken Project Special Report

We hope you can join us on November 25th, 2013, at the Palm Desert Community Gallery for the opening reception of a two month solo exhibit featuring The Suboken Project’s: The Cartographer’s Dilemma and In A Place: Coachella Valley.

The exhibition runs from November 25th through January 21st. Gallery hours will be from 8:00am until 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Calista and I are hoping to organize a couple of artist talks during the show’s run for anyone interested in touring the exhibit with Suboken (that would be me), and share in a conversation about the process and themes featured in both projects.
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Is The Osteodontokeratic Hammer Built Or Grown? part 3

One day I was sitting in the Palm Springs Art Museum, waiting for Calista who was attending a Leadership Coachella Valley meeting. I had some lined note paper, a mechanical pencil, a healthy dose of boredom and an eagerness to push the design of the ODK Hammer into something more exciting than it currently was.

Up to this point, the differences between each hammers’ shape was pretty extreme. I wanted to create an internal system or structure that they could all share. I imagined what the skeletal system of an organically grown Osteodontokeratic Hammer could look like. How would the bones fit together? How many bones would the hammer even need? Would there be areas or spaces for internal organs? Most importantly, how would the entire osteo-donto-keratic concept be distributed throughout the tool.

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It’s uncanny how the very first sketch of a concept often ends up being the final design, even after hundreds of sketches have exhausted an artist’s exploration of the subject. So it was that the first sketch of the skeleton of the ODK Hammer became the structural system I would base the core shape of every subsequent hammer sculpture.

Mostly comprised of bones, the sketch included the antler-claw, a ribcage section, a small spinal column as well cartilage and ball socket joints to help absorb shock impacts. What was missing was a system that would suffer the blunt trauma in the use of the hammer’s head.

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The business end of the hammer needed something special to express the purpose of the tool. I imagined that a great deal of scar tissue would accumulate in and around the impact area of the head. What the hammer needed was a substance that could be strong enough to withstand hard impacts. I’m not sure why the answer took so long for me to discover, but after mulling over my copy of Grey’s Anatomy for a day or two, the answer became clear. Teeth are the hardest elements of our skeletal system. Of course the hammer head would be reinforced by teeth, molars to be more specific.

In the time between discovering the fractures in the second set of hammers and Jonathan’s suggested solution, I decided to turn the sketches of the hammer skeleton into an actual sculpture (I guess I just needed to make things harder for myself). The challenge of pulling off the skeleton sculpture did help reignite my excitement for the whole project.

IMG_0766Each skeletal element is sculpted individually and assembled after the baking and painting process. Similar to the fully realized ODK Hammer, there are medium gauge wire frames to which each bone is sculpted over to give the pieces extra reinforcement.

The only thing missing from these versions of the ODK Hammer is a sturdy yet unobtrusive display stand. I’ve designed several different structures, but non of them really show off the sculptures in a flattering way. There’s always work to be done.

That pretty much brings us up to date with the whole project.

IMG_0875Ten full ODK Hammer sculptures will kick off the official production of the project. Five wall mounted fossil art pieces will follow next. Depending on the response from these pieces, five to ten full skeleton hammers will be created along with another five wall mounted fossil sculptures. Then, to wrap up the entire project, a final set of ten full ODK Hammers will complete the project.

If successful, I may eventually revisit the Osteodontokeratic project. I have a stack of sketches where I’ve applied the ODK concept to a large inventory of common tools, screw drivers, saws, wrenchIMG_0067es, pliers, files, e.t.c. However, as with In A Place, I need to make room in my schedule for new projects. Currently, I have a strong interest in further exploring The Cartographer’s Dilemma as well as an all new conceptual project involving the creation of a brand new species of life. Not to mention the continued production on my next two albums.

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After sharing in this journey, reading how this conceptual art project evolved, I post the question to you. Is the Osteodontokeratic Hammer built, or is it grown?

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www.suboken.com/Osteodontokeratic_Hammer.html

Is The Osteodontokeratic Hammer Built Or Grown? part 2

A five or six month hiatus can move by pretty quickly. I tend to have three or four projects going on at the same time. The summer months, as hot as they are, can be the perfect time to focus on some of these other projects.

Trapped inside a heavily air conditioned apartment, I focused on producing my fifth album, Three Sides of the Same Coin. With the summer sunshine in abundance, I set off to non desert locales to find more In A Place scenes. IAP benefitted twice that summer since I was also focusing heavily on the layout of the art book. Sherry Wisener joined the IAP project as the book’s editor. By the time the fall colors started to arrive, In A Place: An Art Book was finished.

During the summer months, four of the five ODK hammers were packed away in a foam lined cardboard box. I kept one out so that I could figure out a method of displaying the final sculptures. The finished hammer was sturdy, and I thought two stands would look nice supporting each sculpture.

Enter Barrett Hoffman.

Barrett and his wife Rhea are close family friends of ours. Barrett is a skilled and inventive metal worker. Barrett also has an avid interest in my creativity. So it didn’t take any convincing when asked if he would like to help with the project. He had me draw up a few sketches of what I wanted, and about a week later he had crafted some solid yet aesthetically appropriate metal stands for the hammers.

IMG_0751It was great to finally display a finished ODK Hammer on the book shelf. However, when I was setting the sculpture on the stands, I discovered something that made heart break. A tiny hairline fracture had formed near the seam where the lower handle joined with the neck bone. I carefully applied pressure to see if the hammer was loose at the joint, but nothing budged. As I examined the sculpture further, I found two more fractures. I had no clue as to what would cause the cracks to form. Concerned, I went to check on the other four hammers that were packed away. Yup, all five hammers were damaged.

My initial assumption was that when the pre-baked core went through the cooking process a second time, the shape must have warped. This could explain why the surface layer would develop the fractures. I thought that the sculpture needed a stronger core solution, something that wouldn’t allow the clay to warp during the baking process.

IMG_0851Using a metal core, a length of rebar perhaps, should be strong enough. I again turned to Barrett for help. He cut and shaped several pieces of rebar based on a template I drew of the overall profile of the hammer. I built up the core layers of the sculpture over the top of the rebar. After baking this core, I then applied the detail layer, just as I did before. With the rebar serving as the new core of the sculpture, the new hammers were absolutely sturdy. The added benefit was that I no longer needed to caution people how fragile the sculptures were.

Yet, after a week, the fractures started to appear again.

I put the ODK Hammer project on hold for several months. I needed a break, and Calista and I were gearing up to launch the In A Place Kickstarter campaign. It felt good to focus all my attention on the Kickstarter page. I was excited to put my work out there for a larger audience to see. However, once the clock started ticking down on the campaign, I needed a distraction to keep me from obsessing over whether or not the funding of In A Place: An Art Book would succeed. (spoiler alert: it didn’t succeed)

One night, not long after the Kickstarter ended, Calista and I had invited our friends Emily and Jonathan over to see the new house. As we toured them around, we spent some time discussing the ODK Hammers, three of the hammers were on display over the fireplace mantel. Emily and Jonathan both have significant backgrounds in science. Jonathan knew immediately what was causing the fractures in the sculptures.

Put your science caps on, friends. This is about to get real.

The cause of the fractures had to do with the coefficient of linear thermal contraction. Those of you who guessed this earlier in this blog entry get a gold star. To put it simply, I was cooling the clay too fast. Jonathan read an article describing the importance of creating a cooling schedule when baking ceramic products multiple times. The consequences of not developing such a schedule would cause the clay products to fracture, just like my hammers.

IMG_0842Armed with knowledge, I came up with a strategy that would bring the temperature of the sculptures down gradually, about twenty-four hours longer than I had previously been cooling down the sculptures.

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And…

 

 

 

 

 

It worked!

 

 

 

 

The next hammer I created didn’t have, nor does it have any hairline fractures at all. It even survived being shipped from Palm Desert to San Francisco without any damage.

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Throughout the entire process, the look of the ODK Hammer has been constantly refined. The current iteration will likely be the definitive design. Slight variations such as skin tonality, hammer length, unique details of the antler-claw and even small hair follicles will remain. However, the overall profile won’t vary too much. This is due to the design of the conceptual skeletal system that I developed to make the ODK Hammer seem even more organic. More on that in part 3.

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Is The Osteodontokeratic Hammer Built Or Grown? part 1

Developing the ODK Hammer as a structurally strong sculpture while achieving an organic look has been a long process.

Once I had decided to use the various types of Sculpey to create the hammers, I began crafting some small test sculptures to see what techniques would work best to produce a realistic skin surface. The polymer clay I was focused on using, Super Sculpey, already went a long way in achieving a defused, skin-like luminance. However, there was still a great deal of work that could be done to push the medium even further towards appearing like real skin. I was hopeful to have the majority of detail sculpted into the clay to pull off the final look.

The early tests started off as solid pieces of Super Sculpey. I would push in a texture stamp to create realistic looking wrinkles and pores. After baking the clay, I used thinned out acrylic paints to add color variation and heightened surface details such as veins, freckles, and sub-dermal colorization. Since the post baked clay was already hard, painting in such details tended to sit right on the surface, not sink in to preserve and enhance the translucency of the surface layer.

Back to the drawing board.

As I was tackling the colorization issues, I was also brainstorming ideas on how to maintain the sculpted surface details while holding the hammer. An early solution involved a set of three armatures the hammer would rest on while I applied the texture stamping. The points of the armature that were in direct contact with the hammer would also have texture built in to preserve the details. This didn’t work out though. As I sculpted the base form of the hammer, the heat from my hands caused the clay to flex and bow under its own weight. (Remind me to talk about the heat issue again later. There’s a specific season that is ideal for making an ODK Hammer.)

My solution was to create a core form that would be baked without any surface details. Once cooked and cooled, I would then apply the surface texture without the issue of the hammer bowing. After a couple tests, this seemed to be the ideal technique. Yet, I still had the colorization issue to figure out. Then a solution finally dawned on me! I could make the core sculpture more detailed with color regions that simulated the muscle tissue, vein structures and bones. Then the surface texture wouldn’t need as much paint to pull off the full effect of looking alive.

Confident, I went into a mini production of five hammers. I sculpted and baked the five cores, plus the horn/claw portion for each hammer. After these elements cooled down, I sculpted on the skin texture with a greater detail and baked the sculptures a second time. These hammers looked amazing, better than I had expected.

I just realized that out of context, all these references to hammers must read as a rather peculiar blog entry.

With five completed ODK Hammers finished, I went right back into another production of five more.

However, it was now May. The Coachella Valley is home to an obscene number of golf courses and resorts. A large percentage of the population only reside here during the winter months, which for us is “The Season”. The Season ends around mid May, and the Snow Bird Exodus begins. Want to guess as to why? If you remove all the resorts and golf courses, take away the track homes and swimming pools, the Coachella Valley is actually a desert in southern California. May usually sees the onslaught of tipple digit temperatures. Those of us who live here year round can do so only through the prolific assistance of climate control technology; air conditioners! Yet, the AC only creates the “air” of comfort (pun intended), through the actual blowing of cool air. The heat still remains at the core of everything. If the cool blowing air stops, the heat becomes all too apparent.

Sculpey doesn’t work very well in the heat. It becomes too soft and slightly gummy. It’s near impossible to work with Sculpey when the heat kicks in, especially if you’re trying to add texture detail. There is a season for which an ODK Hammer (produced in the Coachella Valley) can be created. It is the winter.

Production was put on hold. It would have to wait until the following October, when the temperatures start to fall.

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