The Process of Creating Sculptures
by Daniel Graham
I do many drawings, sometimes a painting, then I sculpt with clay that I mix myself. Depending on the size, the sculpting takes between two weeks and several months.
When I finish sculpting, I make a mold. I can cast pieces in either a ceramic clay material, cast stone, or have them cast in bronze.
For an interior installation, I can use low-fire clay, glass, many low-fire glazes, and age-old coloring techniques like fresco or encaustic wax. The choices are fewer for installations exposed to the elements. In exterior installations, I use either high-fired stoneware, cast stone, or bronze.
Casting a sculpture in clay is more labor-intensive and time-consuming than cast stone or bronze. First, I mix the clay, using a special recipe that won't crack even when it’s very thick. Then I press the clay into the mold and after a few hours, when the clay firms enough, I turn over the mold, lift it off the sculpture and clean the surface. I cut the relief into pieces not larger than 24 inches. Thick clay needs to dry about a month. When dry, I glaze it and fire it in a gas kiln. Then I reassemble it on reinforced plywood backing for an interior installation, or on cement for an exterior piece. I seal the surface if it has not been glazed.
For cast stone, I use different combinations of sands; aggregates like ground stone, marble dust, oxides, cement or Forton MG; stainless steel, or bronze wool, creating a variety of colors and textures. I press this mix into a mold and reinforce it with metal screen and bars, depending on the size.
For very large sculptures I use a technique called “ferro-cement” which was developed and used extensively in Europe and the U.S. for modern architectural forms. The extremely strong material produced by this technique is even used for large ships in thicknesses of no more than one-half to three-quarters of an inch. It consists of multiple layers of metal screen and wire pressed together with a high grade mixture of white portland cement, a super plasticizer, a latex admixture, and aggregates. It is fire-, water-, and earthquake-proof yet can be made with the look of natural stone or colored with natural oxides to achieve a great variety of surfaces.
Creating a sculpture in cast stone is less time consuming than fired clay, but can be labor intensive if the finished surface is to be smooth and polished for a marble-like effect. Sometimes I prefer to sand-blast the surface to achieve a slightly rough stone effect.
Each material possesses its own unique qualities and look. I let the theme, mood, and spirit of a sculpture dictate the material and surface treatment, combined with the practical aspect of the installation site and its surrounding architecture.