How lucky was I? I managed to get some samples of one of the SAA’s newest products, Sculpture block and sculpture canvas . Being someone who is deeply rooted in 2D work, then the chance to try something new, to bring further depth into my work ,was intriguing, but also slightly scary. But really I should not have been nervous about it. I thoroughly enjoyed working with this new medium and it pushed me to look at how my work could benefit from a more 3D approach.
My first little experiment went rather better than I had expected. I am known for my wave paintings and so I wanted to see if this subject would translate to this new medium.
The principle of the material seems to be to carve into it with tools, for example lino cutter, but also use knives and sandpaper to refine the design. Then to paint it. You could go full 3d to produce a sculpture piece, but I chose not to. I wanted to explore working in relief, this was something I had touched on many years ago, whilst on my Art Foundation course.
On opening the pack I was surprised to find how light the block was. It felt a little strange , slightly like polystyrene but denser. If I am honest I didn’t feel it would be easy to use or be hard wearing. I almost expected it to crumble as I cut it, only time would tell.
The first step was to choose a design and I decided to go with the flow and just draw a wave straight onto the canvas. This I did with a fine felt pen, it was easy to draw on and I discovered that you could lightly sand away, with some fine grade sandpaper, any unwanted lines.
I then had to think which areas I wanted to be the deepest and which the shallowest to get the most out of the material. I chose at this stage to just go with 2 depths, so I cut away with the lino-cutting tools, above the crest of the wave. I did get a bit messy and soon realised, it may have been better to be more organized than I was, but it was a great feeling just cutting away and seeing what happened. I think if you want to have as hap hazard approach then either, mark or shade in the areas to cut away, or concentrate on one area at a time and work slowly. I found the medium cut away nicely. I did create quite a bit of dust, that collected both on my hands and on the work itself, this was easily sorted with hand washing and a trusty old toothbrush to get the dust out of the cuts on the canvas .
I also felt it was important to step back once in a while to review how it was going, like you would with any work, but I think especially when workingh in a more 3 D way. You can check on progress before it become to difficult to put any mistake right. As sculpting was easier than I had expected, I did wish I had take the plunge and created more layers, but I think in it was probably a good move to keep it simple for a first attempt.
I sanded each area with a rough grain sandpaper as I went along, but I finished at the end with a overall tidying up off all the cuts with a finer grade of sandpaper.
When finished I sealed the block with a mixture of acrylic paint and an acrylic binder, I then very roughly blocked out the canvas in the chosen colours . I continued with more blending and detail on the next two layers, much like I would on my normal canvases.
For my larger version I wanted to be braver and add more depths. I estimated I could cut away half the depth and not compromise the strength of the canvas. This seemed to work nicely. I worked from a sketch I already had, of a harbour scene looking out in the distance at a lighthouse, with orange buoys very prominent in the foreground. It has a strong perspective quality, so I felt it would work well in relief. It did become quite confusing at times as this scene was far more complicated, so I had to be more organised. I cut the deepest area first and worked my way up through 4 layers of various depths. This time I decided to try priming it with PVA glue to see what would happen . I found the first time I got a lot of areas that took ages to cover. The PVA seemed to work very well, but needed overnight to dry and I cant vouch for it longevity.
When painting I made sure I kept aerial perspective in mind and chose lighter colors and used less detail in the distance. I added darker stronger pigments in the foreground, which added another optical layer of depth.
I think overall the medium is brilliant. I do think you have to compromise slightly on detail and try not to fit to much into one area as it was not easy to cut around very small areas. My main tip would be to make everything slightly bigger than you need and then when you sand to finish off to a smooth surface, you don’t loose too much definition. Being a terribly impatient person I also used a hairdryer in between paint layers to speed up the process and the block did not suffer
I was surprised at the strength of the block , especially when I dropped it down the back of a radiator it was leaning on to dry. I had to prod and poke to several times with a ruler to get it out and it faired very well. It was not at all crumbly like I had imagined.
I have yet to decide how to best present the finished pieces. With the wave, it was easy to paint the edges of the block, so this could be framed and mounted on board. With the harbour painting I couldn’t decide how to paint the edges, this would be something to consider for my future pieces in this new medium.
I would definitely use again and would highly recommend to any artist , especially those taking their first tentative steps into sculpture , or those wanting to get extra depth into their paintings.
Great fun and definitely a great experience