Constructing large sculptures, step by step
Professional sculptor Kim Graham, a Seattle artist currently living in New Zealand, works at many scales. She especially likes creating large-scale (12-15-foot, 4-5m) sculptures. On this website, SilkMermaid.com, Kim describes in exact detail each step in constructing two large projects, from initial maquette (model) to eventual completion.
The Gentle Dragon
Kim Graham has commenced a new sculpture in concrete, The Gentle Dragon, as preparation for her long-held dream, a concrete version of her 2005 Tree Troll. Follow her progress here, starting with the initial Gentle Dragon maquette and early experiments with porcelain glazed eyes.
About this site
The site’s name derives from the Red Silk Mermaid, a 15-foot sculpture Kim commenced in June 2008 in her one-bedroom apartment in Seattle, Washington, using more than 1,000 pounds of clay over a foil base on a steel armature she welded herself. She molded the entire sculpture in polymer for eventual casting in bronze. When cast, the Mermaid’s fins will occasionally move gently using robotic mechanisms.
In April 2009 Kim suspended work on the Red Silk Mermaid pending improvement in the economy. In its place she planned a new large project, a second version of her 2005 Tree Troll. She cast the original 12-foot Troll in papier mache as an experiment with nontoxic materials. Intended for a children’s playground, the new Troll will be just as big as the original, but made of concrete.
This index page lists the entire sculpting process for these projects in chronological order, with links to Kim’s blog entries for each step. The SilkMermaid blog presents the entries in reverse order, most recent first.
In spring 2009 Kim paused work on the large projects to execute other commissions. Her 2009 commission “Satyr Legs” prompted Kim to design her new Weta Legs. Her two YouTube video demos went viral; Digilegs demo I has been seen over 700,000 times. Check this lengthy Coilhouse interview with Kim Graham by Meredith Yayanos for lots more about the Weta Legs and about her many sculptures.
Red Silk Mermaid (2008-09)
The initial inspiration, the maquette (model), and the techniques for scaling up the maquette.
Welding the armature (July 2008)
Every sculptor of large pieces must learn how to weld.
Sculpting (July-August 2008)
- Applying the clay
- Time to start sculpting
- Possible fin mechanism
- Hair – no cheating
- Cleaning up
- Acetate pattern transfer
- Hair finished – but I need clay!
Molding the hair (September 2008)
(Here Kim paused in sculpting to make molds of the Mermaid’s hair, so she could reclaim that clay.)
- Moldmaking: the hair (1 of 4)
- Moldmaking: the hair (2)
- Moldmaking: the hair (3)
- Moldmaking: the hair (4)
Sculpting (continued, September-December 2008)
(In these months Kim took time away from the Mermaid to work on other commissions.)
Construction (January-April 2009)
- Fin mechanism prototype
- Preparing for molding (1)
- Mounting the small parts
- The big molds (1)
- Big molds (2): Mother molds and mold legs
- Big molds (3): Opening the molds
- Dying the fin silk
- Silk dying technique
- Removing the rubber molds
Mermaid stages still ahead
- New cantilevered armature
- Building motors for fins
Digression: A new commission, “Satyr legs”
(Kim undertook the Red Silk Mermaid and Tree Troll as personal projects in between her normal commissions. In March 2009 she received a commission to construct a set of mechanical leg extensions for a satyr costume. She chronicled the commission on this blog.)
- A new commission: Satyr Legs
- Satyr Legs at Wizards of the Coast
- Satyr Legs: Casting the rubber feet
- Digigrade leg extensions (complete! with video!)
- Digilegs II demo posted on YouTube
Tree Troll (April-June 2009)
Auckland Dragon demo (June-July 2010)
In late June and early July 2010 Kim Graham staged a two-week sculpture demonstration at a mall in Auckland, New Zealand. Here she documents in detail the creation of this large clay dragon sculpture.
- Auckland Dragon armature
- Auckland Dragon Day 1
- Auckland Dragon Day 2
- Auckland Dragon Day 6
- Auckland Dragon Day 7
- Interview on “Studio 2 Live”
- Auckland Dragon – start to finish!
The Gentle Dragon (2012)
Kim Graham has begun a life-size concrete sculpture of an aged dragon as preparation for the eventual realization in concrete of her 2005 Tree Troll. Follow her progress on The Gentle Dragon here.
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