Saturday, February 7, 2015

February 7, 2015

Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question. . . 
-- T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

At my advanced age, I begin making beads.  

My main ingredient and one true love, art-wise, is Apoxie Sculpt.  I've been using it for years as an adhesive and general joining substance.  This two-part epoxy putty is nontoxic, has almost no smell, and dries to the hardness of concrete.  When it's wet it can be cleaned up or smoothed out with water.  When it's dry it can be sanded, painted, stained.  I cannot tell you how much I adore this stuff and how integral it has been to my work from the start.  

An early bead - I used it in a necklace which you
can see at my Etsy shop by clicking here.
Now to the beads.  Apparently one of the laws of physics states that I will always mix up too much any two-part substance.  I do this with resin as well.  So in the past when I've had a bit of Apoxie Sculpt (AS) left over, I've made a little pea-sized bead or two.  These beads were not impressive because they were unintentional afterthoughts.  They looked like nothing more than left-over lumps of clay.  At least they weren't putting on airs.

I soon moved on to deliberate AS beads like the one at left.  I was inspired by very early beads from the Iron Age, when people were using just about the same tools I have at my disposal - clay, their hands and the implements already around them, and a stick to dry the bead on.  I also used - and still use - earth pigments to a large degree.  The ochres, umbers, and oxides. The colors that were used in cave paintings.    

I like big beads, and one of the few issues with Apoxie is that it does have weight.  A couple of weeks ago I thought about using a wooden bead as a center, to make the bead lighter.  It worked.  Then I decided to try a 1" styrofoam ball as a center (they're unusually expensive for some reason).  It worked even better.  To date I have made two of the Big Beads, pictured here. 

Big Bead #1
Big Bead #1 is just a bit over 1" in diameter, but he's very light.  The AS is forming a thin shell over the styrofoam, but since the AS is so very hard this isn't a fragile bead.  I guess a hammer blow wouldn't do it much good, but what kind of psycho hates beads that much?  

After mixing for about 90 seconds, I rolled out the AS between two silicone sheets.  It still stuck a bit as I was trying to pick it up, so I layered it on the styrofoam in sections.  This made nice, crusty edges that I liked a lot, so I left them.  When the bead cured - which takes 12 hours - I decided to put this guy through his paces.  I applied some of Susan Lenart Kazmer's "cold enamel" powder with a heat gun to create the silver continents on this tiny planet.  I painted the rest of it with white gesso, then a buff undercoat, then layered various stains, walnut ink, etc. on it until I got the look I wanted.  The bead went through various permutations along the way.  I think at one point the bead was green, but I won't testify to that under oath.  I put a final coat of Diamond Glaze on the silver areas and then covered the bead with matte Mod Podge as a sealant.  I wired it up with some washers and tiny silver beads, and voila.  The Big Bead was born.

Typing this up, it seems like it took a lot of work and time.  On the one hand it did, but on the other hand there were many other projects going on in the studio.  Altogether this took several days, but that's part of the process.  I find that the time spent waiting for something to cure or dry is often very productive, because it allows the project to breathe and rest and eventually tell me what it wants to be.  Very often the end result is nothing like I thought it would be.  

Three fat beads - Big Bead #2 is the blue one on the left.
I know I'm really getting into the swing of things when I start making several at once. That was the case the other day when I started making these three beads.  The blue bead with holes around the center is made over a styrofoam ball.  The green and red beads are made over wooden bead forms.  (These can be bought in a bulk bag in the children's department of any craft store.)  In each case I put the form onto a toothpick or skewer and molded away.  AS is very sticky when first blended, and that is the time to get the basic shape formed. The manufacturers say it has an "open time" of about three hours, but if you think of it as a door that is slowly closing from the moment you mix it, that will give you a more realistic picture.  This comes in handy, because after I initially formed the beads I set them aside (dangling as if on a spit over the open mouth of a vase or jar) for about a half hour, then went back and put in some finer details.  This is when I added tiny circles of AS to the blue bead, flattened them, and poked the flat end of a skewer right into the styrofoam beneath.  This is also when I used a pen cap to make circles on the red bead and then a toothpick to make the holes in the circles. After two more hours the basic form can't be changed, but a sharp object like a needle (see the green bead) can be used to add texture or draw fine lines.  Before leaving the beads to cure thoroughly, I made sure the skewers turned freely, enlarging the holes by rotating the skewers where needed.  AS sticks to everything, and those skewers have to come out eventually.  You can also use a nice thick wire for the center hole and suspension device, so long as you make sure it moves around freely before leaving it to cure.  

The final process involved a lot of painting, staining, etc.  I have always used the plain gray AS, although I recently ordered both white and black to experiment with.  The gray takes paint wonderfully.  I won't tell you the process with these beads, both because it's long and convoluted and because I don't remember a lot of it.  I had the music turned up very loud.  There were many layers, and I didn't like some of them.  I will tell you I used my favorite green, Jenkins Green.  Whoever invented that (Mrs. Jenkins?) is my hero.  That is one lovely color.  Also red oxide.  Beyond that, I will not say.  

I think these beads need to be toned down a little in order to look truly old, but I'm not sure if that's the look I'm going for.  I might consider taking some dirt from the garden and rubbing it in, then rubbing it off with a cloth and putting a layer of sealant over it.  I would consider that if the garden were not under several inches of snow and the ground weren't frozen as hard as Apoxie Sculpt.  This is another reason to look forward to spring.