Posted in Studio Notes

Studio Notes 25/01/19

Bookbinding. That’s what I have to figure out today.

Nothing too complicated, just an A5 booklet made up of two signatures of printer paper and a cartridge paper cover, but it’s still something I haven’t done for ages and on top of that, it’s a present. For tomorrow.

After a few days of editing, story filling, typesetting and printing, I now get to bind the epic book that my son has written. Something tells me he’s been the victor in this battle of the division of labour. Anyway, here’s some more of the week’s highlights and general things I wanted to proclaim.

Pop Culture Detective

I discovered this channel earlier in the month but after watching a few more videos I have to recommend Pop Culture Detective’s YouTube channel. It is now officially my new favourite thing or at least one of five New Favourite Things.

The video essays dig into aspects of masculinity in pop culture that I never even put my finger on, but recognised instantly. I’ve had a go at writing this kind of essay before with my Rocky critique but this channel shows how to do it properly. With titles like Stalking For Love and Abduction As Romance, you’ll find yourself questioning what the movies have been doing to your brain all these years.

Gold rush

Everything is gold!

This week I stumbled across a site called PrettyWebz (oh, that Z…) and it’s full of tutorials on creating metallic effects as well as vectorising fonts in PowerPoint – a blessing for people who don’t have Photoshop.

It was an eye-opener, to say the least. It’s actually allowed me to replicate a text effect that I’ve been after for one of my other sites, to match its logo. Besides that, I’ve put it to use in putting some bling on the cover of T’s aforementioned novella.

The Riddler strikes

Yes, I know it’s just a Primark t-shirt, but what’s wrong with that?

I designed the question mark a few weeks ago (going nuts with fonts) and have been trying to keep it under my [bowler] hat, but T caught a glimpse of the file on my laptop… Still, I don’t think he knows what’s coming.

The shirt is a surprise gift for T and an excuse for the grown-ups to geek out a bit. Last year I gave in to a fit of nostalgia and started gathering up the comic books I’d loved when I was about 7, and I’m still working on that collection.

We’d planned to print a Riddler-inspired shirt for each of us but could only find two men’s tops, so mine will have to wait. I did a quick tutorial for Ste on how to help expose a screen (the screens I coated last month were waiting for me and still good) and pull a print. So this time around I had an assistant for a change!

Binding, printing & photo editing

There was a lot more going on this week than I thought there would be, so who knows what will come around in the next few days?

Last week

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Studio Notes, 25/01/2019

Studio Notes 18/01/19

Not being able to work as I normally would has pushed me hard towards graphic design. Funny, I had envisioned spending my time putting all of my previous visual notes in order in my sketchbook, but I haven’t touched it once.

Part of the slide towards design has come from the fact that it’s so sorely needed. I have too many live websites with butt-ugly images on them, and that’s not a good thing to admit as an artist. Thing is, graphic design and fine art are two very different things, and I know just enough to know that I’m not a designer.

Still, it doesn’t look great, seeing as I should (and usually do) know better. Sometimes when you’re close up to a project with a tight deadline and very little resources and, you convince yourself that good enough is actually good, when it wasn’t even good enough in the first place.

This reflection came from looking back at my other site’s Pinterest images from 2016 to now – you would have thought they were created by two entirely different people! With all the time sitting still, I’ve been able to work out a plan for an image overhaul.

Free (and decent) design resources

Taking my own pictures was not an option – not being mobile and all that – so I started a quest to find some good stock images that weren’t already used to death.

That’s where I came across Rawpixel, which has some fantastic photographs and vectors and offers many for free. This link gives you a month’s premium membership.

Creative Market is one of my favourite resources for one of my favourite design elements – fonts! Every Monday I check their “free goods” offering, to see if there are any stock images, seamless patterns or fonts that catch my eye. It all started when I bought two fonts there at the end of 2017 and I’ve been a fan since then.

The design bug strikes in the family

A very talented playing card-obsessed teenager I know has opened his own Zazzle store!

What started out as a way to create one custom printed deck of cards turned into a bit of an entrepreneurial crusade. Who knows if it’s the start of an empire?

Speaking of Zazzle, I’ve been questioning whether I want to keep my own store open at all, or just set up a design site elsewhere. You know, because I need more things that I don’t get around to doing.

The problem I’ve faced for years is whether to legitimise something that I only really play with. I’m not a designer and I don’t really want to be, but I like it as a diversion. Plus, I like owning my own merch.

Present day approaches…

Our annual present day is looming and I can’t exactly nip out to pick up any surprise gifts, which is a pain. On top of that, I can’t exactly make any gifts.

The original plan was to print some t-shirts but I’m not sure if that will come to pass either!

What I have been doing is putting my typographical fix to work in designing the gift tags we’ll be using (look out for those in a few weeks).

Maybe in another week’s time I’ll have a stencil cut and be able to direct the printing from a distance. A bit like a real designer, right?

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Studio Notes 18/01/19

Studio Notes 11/01/19

This week has been more of the same, like I thought it would be. Watching lots of YouTube has shown me that my screen printing setup is less than rudimentary, but I’ll be rocking the extreme DIY version for a while yet.

It also gave me an idea for a niche video channel that I’ll never get around to starting though, so at least my brain’s been sufficiently agitated.

Distracted by typography

This actually happens at least a handful of times every year. This time it started because I’ve been designing a typeface to print onto a t-shirt for my son – but I only need some punctuation marks, so maybe “designing a typeface” is hyping that up a bit.

Still, it was enough to give me the bug again and this time I’ve actually been playing around with FontStruct and Calligraphr, which do let you design your own typeface. I’ve got a few on the go, but in the middle of working on one I realised it would be a lot more work than I can spare right now.

Maybe they’ll appear as prints later in the year. I dunno.

A playing card wedged in ceiling coving 11/01/19
Yes, that’s a card wedged in the living room coving.

The world of playing cards

This is entirely new to me, but thanks to my son I’ve truly been enlightened. He’s into throwing cards at the moment so he’s after a few different decks, but I’ve been bowled over by the absolutely beautifully designed decks out there. Even the boxes are sometimes marvels of product design.

The other side of this interest is finding cards everywhere. Everywhere.

Domain name ideas

Ok, so another one of my hobbies is hoarding domain names (judge me, I don’t care) and of course I came up with a few crackers. I’m particularly fond of going across the dot with TLDs to make up words… well, there are nerdier things you could do.

I was going to share a few of the wackier ones I came up with but I haven’t decided whether I’m actually ready to let them go! Well, that is kinda the point of hoarding, but I don’t know if I’m prepared to spend my money on odd domains instead of art supplies.

I was thinking about justifying it by setting up a new site for some of my wonky design efforts and random finds, but I have so many sites on the go even now that I backed down from that precipice pretty quickly.

Next week?

I’m a lot more mobile than I was even two days ago, so I’m hopeful to have more studio developments to share, with more photographs.

I’ve also decided that I really should come up with a name for my little studio mate. Egbert maybe? Any thoughts?

Last week

Next week

Studio Notes 11/01/19
Chillin’ in the studio. Seriously, it’s freezing in there.

Studio Notes – Planning For 2019

For the first full week of 2019, I’ve been sitting still. It’s been boring.

Thanks to a minor operation in the last week of 2018 I’ve had to basically do nothing but rest, cutting my latest project in half. Up until the last minute I had been developing and testing my first banknote (part of the money project), a double sided, three-colour screen print.

For most of December I worked on the design, created my home screen exposure setup, bought equipment, mixed inks and then made a few colour test runs.

Then I had to stop.

Making the best of it

Whilst I’ve been unable to work on my printmaking, I’ve decided to look at the positives: there are still creative, useful things I can do whilst sitting down. I’ve been doing a few different things:

  • learning how to use GIMP properly
  • creating half-tone images for a group portrait
  • redesigning and producing cover images for my blogs
  • taking stock photos in the studio
  • watching all of the screenprinting videos on YouTube
  • brainstorming business ideas I won’t have time for
  • general plotting

Granted, coming up with new business ideas (screen printing can send you on tangents) is not exactly useful but it helps to keep your brain humming. I’ve got quite a few t-shirt ideas now!

Most of my screen print artwork (well, probably all of it) comes from hand-drawn elements, not computer graphics, but the fact is that some things would be better done using computer programs.

Over the last few days I’ve been able to get my head around GIMP at last – just enough to make it less intimidating and more of a help than a potential hindrance.

Next week?

Hopefully week 2 will see me more mobile but I think it’ll be more of the same: looking on the bright side and getting all the preparation in.

Next week

Studio notes: planning for 2019.

Studio Notes: Casting A Giant Pewter Coin

Although I haven’t posted any news in a long time, it’s not for lack of news to share; in fact, I’ve been busier than ever in the studio. This project has been fascinating me and making me want to share, but at the same time making me want to hide away until it’s all done and perfect.

Unfortunately, perfection is still quite far off and I’m trying hard to embrace that. So here’s the story of casting a giant pewter coin when you’ve never done any pewter casting before.

Moving from aluminium to pewter

My initial idea was to make an aluminium coin using the lost foam process, as we’d been casting aluminium with our newly made bucket furnace. The problem was getting the foam coin ready in time for when we decided to fire up the foundry… firing it up was time-consuming and required more than one person as well as decent weather, which was definitely a problem.

In short, I got a suggestion from a friend to try pewter instead, and that freed me up to do lots more experiments and work in my kitchen instead of outside.

Making the wax positives

Foam was nowhere near good enough for the level of detail I wanted, and anyway, I was moving to a lower-melt metal, so I started to work with wax to make the initial prototypes that I would then make casts from.

Beeswax was so foreign and fiddly that I just couldn’t stand it. I started experimenting with adding hot melt glue sticks to the mixture, which gave me a more plastic, flexible material. The problem with this was that it was harder to join pieces together.

It feels like a serious injustice to condense it so much here, because I feel as though I spent so much of my life over the last few months fiddling with wax, trying to sculpt the perfect coin.

Silicone casting

One thing I knew I had to do before going all-in with lost wax casting was to get some silicone to make a master mould of my coin. My first problem was that I knew next to nothing about silicone casting.

Cheapo, diy silicone casting – yes, I knew about that – but as I proved in some kitchen experiments, silicone sealant moulds don’t hold up against pewter. On top of that, I broke my first wax coin by pressing the silicone sealant mould onto it. 

I had to get a reliable silicone that could be poured, not pressed. After a bit of research I bought a 1.1kg kit of M4512 RTV shore A 20 condensation cure silicone. And… I had no idea what any of that actually meant.

That silicone was fine for creating the wax versions of my coin, but it was so soft (hence shore A20, the lower number on a hardness scale ending at 100) that it was tough to cast it without the wax deforming the mould. I had to build a case to hold it and stop it bulging in the middle.

Casting a wax coin in shore A20 silicone.
The portrait on this was terrible! But the silicone was so soft that it could easily be pressed in, making the wax too thin.

Lost wax failures

My first attempts were with lost wax casting using plaster of paris as an investment material. This was ok to a certain extent, but I got loads of bubbling and pitting. Whilst it was definitely recognisable as a coin, it wasn’t exactly good enough.

This was why I didn’t want to start the process without having a way to replicate my wax coin. I had to start over with more sprues in my plaster and more ways for my pewter to vent steam without pitting, but it had taken so much time to cast the investment blocks and dry them that I decided I needed to get some high-temperature silicone that I could just cast the metal directly into.

First semi-successful pewter casting, obverse side.

One advantage of not getting a perfect result at this point was that it made me stop and go back to the drawing board and redesign the coin and the way I made the positive. Instead of just using wax, I made my positive up from foamboard for the base and rim and wax for sculpted elements.

This stage – redesigning – did take more time than I wanted it to, but the result was a much better looking coin than I’d started with. If I hadn’t failed at first then I’d have come out with an uglier version, so some comfort there.

High temperature silicone casting

Figuring that I knew a fair bit more about condensation cure silicones and all that, I was a bit more confident about making my second purchase. Unfortunately I couldn’t find MoldMax 60 in the UK and nothing else that I liked at a decent price, but I did find an alternative on eBay – a 1kg kit that mixed at a 50:50 ratio and cost only £26.

1kg sounds like a lot, but… well… it’s not. Fortunately this stuff does the job and copes well with the high temperatures, so I was happy with that.

Although I was on the home straight I still had problems. I was pouring the pewter directly down into my mould, and I was constantly finding surface pitting and burn marks where the pewter had poured in.

Pewter coin cast in high temperature  silicone.

Enlarging the pour spout helped with getting rid of bubbles at the very top, and lots of new, large vents along the sides did help somewhat, but nothing got me the perfect copy of my wax coin. I still had a sculpture that needed lots of grinding, sanding and scraping.

Finishing the sculpture

At this point, a couple of months in, I decided to get some more high temperature silicone and redesign the gate system to minimise burning and pitting when I poured the metal. Before that, though, I wanted to finish the coin as much as I could, and yet again rework the initial wax sculpture to refine elements that still didn’t work.

So here’s the prototype, which features a few elements that weren’t included in the original design, but will be integrated into the final run.

Pewter coin by Lee Devonish. Artist's Proof obverse

Casting a giant pewter coin was definitely more of a challenge than a smaller coin, but because of this project, smaller coins are currently in production as well.

Pewter coin by Lee Devonish. Artist's Proof reverse.