Monday 28 February 2022

Great Upcyclers #5: Blake McFarland

Blake McFarland of BM Sculptures creates truly beautiful work. Often he uses wood and resin but he also upcycles junk materials such as old tyres. 

Have a watch of these videos. It's a marvelous thing he does. 

The BM Sculptures website is here.

Saturday 19 February 2022

Great Upcyclers #4: Johnson Zuzu

Artist Johnson Zuze is an absolute genius when it comes to upcycling junk into art.

Zuze is one of the most decorated emerging talents in Zimbabwe. He has won a number of awards including Waste No Waste at The Italian Embassy in 2015, Young artist prize Heritage Exhibition National gallery in 2014, the first prize in Sculpture at No Limits, First Floor Gallery Harare in 2013. Zuze has also enjoyed three nominations for the National Art Merit Award. Selected exhibitions include the United Nations World Tourism Conference, Zimbabwe Olympic Committee's Friendship Through Sport, and his epic solo show Gutter Rainbows

He collects from dumps in his hometown of Chitungwiza, about 30 km south of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. He is fighting hard to raise awareness about protecting the environment - not by words but through visual artistic expressions. 'What I do is I collect items of urban junk either from street corners or landfills and I give them new existence beyond their primary use into a poetic justice dimension,' Zuze explains. 

His latest piece titled Save and Protect, is an art installation resembling a full-size elephant completely made out of recycled materials.
The whole structure, which took him more than five months to complete, was erected without any welding but with hand fastened wires only. The only tool involved was an angle grinder. 

The sculpture is made partly of snare wire used by poachers and other recycled materials such as glass and ceramic items. It highlights two pressing issues - recycling and the protection of wildlife. 

Zuzu's interest in recycling was sparked after the burning down of his family house in 2009 and he went through the remains to express himself. He collected metal items such as spoons and wire and created a work called Beautiful Struggle. He said the work was meant to portray the image that hope can still be found even in unimaginable situations.

Thursday 17 February 2022

Trashbugs 4

Two new bugs to report - one a commission, one for fun. 

The spider was made from a plant watering bulb thing, a couple of screw caps (mouthwash and tomato puree), a couple of PCR test droppers (suitably sterilised after use), googly eyes, cardboard, some coffee stirrers, plastic beads, a deodorant spray cap and a handful of plastic cutlery. Two plastic spoons were used for the face shield, fork tines became the fangs and the legs were each made from plastic knives that were broken into pieces and welded together using a naked flame. The legs were held together using two large washers and a nut and bolt (plus hot glue). After that it was a matter of painting to create the illusion of old metal.

The second new trashbug is a kind of wasp. It's made from a Yakult pot, an old desk light, hand soap bottle parts, plastic cutlery, cocktail sticks, lollipop sticks, beads and parts from various spray bottles. 

I then added plastic knife wings and painted the body using a combination of dry-brushed silver and 'rattly can' bronze.

One interesting thing is the paint effect on the eyes. I made the mistake of not thoroughly shaking a pot of gold paint before using and, as the result, it was too watery to stick and created a marbling effect instead. But I really liked it - a pure accident but a happy accident.
And we're done.

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Update: The One Hour Trashbug Challenge

Well, as I predicted in this previous post, I couldn't leave that sorry ladybird-type trash beetle as it was. It needed some TLC.

So, I had a rummage in my junk boxes and found a few interesting bits and pieces. Then I set about upgrading the beetle. I was particularly inspired by some real life beetles, like these chaps:

That's a rhinoceros beetle, a stag beetle and a Hercules beetle. But just the rhino beetles alone come with a staggering range of bizarre headwear:
Amazing aren't they? 

I decided my beetle would have something like that. And here's what I came up with.
Then I mounted it on two interestingly-shaped pieces of bark and half of an old ribbon reel painted blue.

I reckon that's much better, don't you? 

It meant another two and a half hours of work (not including paint-drying time) but I think the extra effort was worth it.

Do you? 

Thursday 10 February 2022

The one hour trashbug challenge

'Hey Stevyn!' said one of my social media chums recently. 'How long does it take to make a trashbug?' 

'How long is a piece of string?' I replied. 

'Twice the length of the halfway point to one of the ends,' said my smartarse chum. 'But seriously - how long?' 

It's a tricky question to answer. But it's an important one to address because it dictates the cost of my finished sculptures. 

People often moan about the fact that art can be expensive.  

'My five year old could have done that!' they say as they stare at a scribbled abstract painting by Cy Twombly that is valued at $60 million.

Yes, but they didn't did they?

Photo by Blake Cheek on Unsplash

I'm not in Twombly's league. But my sculptures can still cost hundreds of pounds.

'But your stuff is made from throwaway free junk!' say the critics. 'How can you justify your prices?' 

It is true that plastic packaging costs me nothing, other than what I paid when purchasing what was originally inside it. But every sculpture does cost me time and effort. And time is money. 

The National Minimum Wage is £9.50 per hour (as of 2022). Let's imagine that's all I charge my customers, plus 50p to cover the cost of materials like glue, varnish and paints. £10 per hour is a nice round figure to calculate with. And let's also say that I only charge for assembly and painting time. I don't charge for the hours spent waiting for paint and glue to dry - even if I do often engage in holding a heat gun over a model to speed things up.  

So, what could I make you for a tenner? What can I achieve in an hour? I thought I'd try to find out. 

So I set a timer and off I went. 

As I was on the clock, all I could afford was a very quick rummage in my junk boxes. Making sculptures from junk isn't like making a Lego kit where you have bespoke cast pieces and a set of instructions to go by. Trash bashing or scratch building means having an eye for certain shapes and seeing their potential. Then you have to see how they fit together, which can mean modifying them by cutting pieces away or altering their shape with knives or sandpaper or even fire. 

I found the spray mechanism of a kitchen bleach bottle and pulled it all apart. I used the top panel and part of the trigger to make a body and head. I added two small plastic bearings for eyes and some balsa wood offcuts for jaws. Then I broke some tines off a couple of plastic forks and made legs by bending them over a tealight candle. I made the slightly longer rear legs by melting and fusing two tines together for each. Then I gave it a spray of white primer. 

I checked the clock. I'd already passed the hour mark by eight minutes. Here's what you get for a tenner at minimum wage level. It's very simple and it's small - it comfortably fits in the palm of my hand.
Out of interest, I decided to carry on. 

I gave the body a coat of ladybird red and painted the head and legs black. I also painted 6 googly eyes to later use as spots. 

Now, I could have just stuck that all together and called it done at the 90 minute mark. 

But that isn't what I do. I make my insects look like machines. That means adding some more detail and a paint job to match.

I therefore added some googly eyes for joints, and a piece from inside the spray bottle trigger as an exhaust vent. I then painted them before adding layers of ink washes, dry-brushed metallic paints and fake rust (grated chalk pastels mixed with paint) to create texture and to give the impression of weathered metal. 

I was now at the three hour mark and nowhere near finished. 

I'd been working as quickly as possible. Which is why, even after three hours, it doesn't look great. It's rushed and clumsy and not even close to my usual standard of work. And yes, I realise that a ladybird's spots don't work like that as the body should have a central split to form the wing cases. Durrr. One absolute certainty with this kind of assemblage art is that you'll discover things that don't work along the way. It's a constant problem solving exercise and you will frequently change things or try doing them a different way in order to get the best possible result. 

However, here's the point. 

Even working for the minimum wage, I would need to charge around £30 for this small below-par bug. 

But I don't work for minimum wage. 

Most professional technicians - like plumbers, electricians or car mechanics - earn, on average, around twice the minimum wage. Many earn a lot more. You're not just paying for their time but for their expertise too. It will have taken them years, and quite a lot of money, time and effort, to get good at what they do. 

Artists are no different. They have hard-earned skills and knowledge ... and they have to pay bills too.

So my shoddy little unfinished ladybird should actually cost you around £60 at least. Or even more. It is unique, after all.

'Sixty quid?!' I hear you cry. 'But all you did was stick some bits of plastic together and paint them!' 

Yes I did. And you could do the same. In fact, I actively encourage you to have a go because making art is always a good and positive thing to do. 

But you will find that it's not as easy as it looks. It takes time to develop an eye for seeing potential in the junk. Practice will make you better at doing it. You can also learn the various painting techniques and the pros and cons of using certain adhesives with different forms of plastics - but that takes time too. And you'll start to get a sense of why I, and other artists, charge the prices that we do.

We're simply asking for a reasonable return on the time and effort we've put into making art for you.

Most of my creations are a lot bigger that this ladybird and certainly a lot more complex. My recent dragonfly took over 12 hours to construct and paint. That's why my sculptures usually cost between £100 and £300. 

So there you go. 

Thanks for reading.

Oh, and I'll post a photo of the ladybird when I've made a better job of it! 

I can't leave it like that ...

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Big Ork by Scratch Bashing

This is an extraordinary piece of trash bashing i.e. making a cohesive structure/sculpture using only trash.

The anonymous 'Scratch' is very good at this stuff and, while I don't play war games, I can appreciate the skill on display. There's real problem solving happening here. To be able to look at a pile of throwaway plastics of all different shapes, sizes and colours and to put them all together like this takes real talent (see also Studson Studio's epic trash build of Howl's Moving Castle).

Fascinating to watch and to learn from.


Monday 7 February 2022

Trashbugs 3

By Jiminy, I made a cricket!

As always, the choice of subject was dictated by the forms I found in my junk box. Putting together the top of a deodorant spray, a mayonnaise lid and part of a squash bottle reminded me of a bush cricket. I then managed to make something approximating the shape of the head from a deconstructed kitchen bleach spray trigger (often a source of really interesting plastic shapes). I added a couple of wooden cogs too.

I decided to use a defunct old phone charger cable for the antennae - I simply removed the wire from inside the coiled metal sheath and replaced it with stiff garden wire to make it poseable. The addition of a couple of toy balls for eyes and it was starting to come together.

When it came to the rear legs I used plastic cutlery left over from my birthday party last August. Melting it slowly over a tealight candle allows you to bend and weld it and it wasn't too hard to create the shapes I wanted. I then added a few greeblies in the form of googly eyes, plastic lollipop sticks, parts of freezer bag clips and 'feet' made from deodorant can triggers. The other four legs were made from lollipop sticks and beads glued onto wire.
It was at this point that I realised that the head and the 'mouthparts were all wrong. So I took a saw to it and the finished result is much better (and, of course, I can recycle the piece I cut off into another model). I gave the whole thing a coat of white primer and then painted it a nice pastel blue, followed by a succession of orange/brown and metallic silver ink washes to start to create an eroded metal look.
Finally, I daubed on some fresh blue paint, and some rust-colours at the seams and joints. A final dry-brush on the high edges with metallic blue paint and it was done. 

Should it have been green? Maybe. But the blue really seemed to work. And, after all, we're suspending disbelief here aren't we? These are mechanical rather than biological. 

Plus, whoever saw a six inch long cricket? Not even your giant New Zealand wētā can match that.
I enjoyed this one.

Friday 4 February 2022

Trashbugs 2

I've been enjoying making these things so much that I've simply carried on! I've also experimented with more dynamic portrayals - rather than just emulating specimens on display in a collection - with this rusty looking bug and a dragonfly.

Like the previous trashbugs, these were made entirely from recycled materials (except for the wooden cogwheels which I bought in bulk for another project from a craft shop in 2019).

The bug began as three nitrous oxide cylinders found in a wood while I was walking my dogs. Some silly kids were obviously 'doing balloons' (I say silly because they clearly don't realise the health risks involved). The main leg assembly is a broken hair grip that I reshaped by holding it over a tealight candle and bending the 'limbs'. One of the tins on the hairgrip was broken so I replaced it with an arm and law and mirrored that on the other side. The 'teeth' was also from a hairgrip and the eyes were the earbuds on a broken pair of earphones. Detailing came from my greebly box and then I used a combination of painting techniques to create a rust effect.

To finish, I added some dusty yellow highlights. I then made a base for it to stand on. I used my hot wire to shape a lump of polystyrene packaging and then covered it with a mix of plaster, PVA glue and brown paint. To finish, I drybrushed a lighter brown to bring up the surface detail and sprinkled a little green flock over some PVA. And we were done.

The dragonfly, meanwhile, was suggested by a found toy plastic golf ball that reminded me of compound eyes. I attached it to a body made from a Yakult pot, a broken metal Maglite torch, a pen lid and various other things. The forearms were made from various plastic greeblies and the claws by cemeting tgther the little wooden triangles that I needed to push out of the spokes of my lasercut wooden cogwheels - waste nothing! 

The whole thing was then given a coat of matt black primer and then painted with several different colour metallic pigments.
It was at this point that I realised the body was too stumpy so I increased the length by adding the lid from a dead Posca marker pen. I also built the wing assembly from clear plastic packaging (an antipasto meat selection if you're interested), a plastic clothes peg, wire and beads. 
Here's the finished piece.

I'm now working on a few more.

And I'm running out of space!

Expect an announcement soon regarding sales.