Work in progress – Autumn Dancer

28th January 2020

I’m starting a wholly new mobile loosely based around a Jackie Kay poem “Two Autumns” and I thought I’d try putting together a stage-by-stage record of the work as it goes.

Carving the back former

Every piece is different but this one starts with my carving a former on which to laminate the veneeers. Because this will be based on a female dancing I’m carving the back first. Please note that the workshop is, if anything, a little tidier than usual!

2nd February

The back is now carved and sanded. The shape can’t be too finely detailed because the eventual mobile will be made up of veneer leaves. As it is I’m not sure that I haven’t made it too detailed for the veneers to follow the folds.

The next stage is to cover the piece with duck tape to ensure that any veneer leaves can be removed easily. It has been pointed out that this looks a bit like Madonna (other dominatrix costume icons are available). In hindsight it might look better if I’d used a different colour of tape!

6th February

The front former is now also carved and I can start to think about how the veneer leaf shapes can be made to sit over these compound curves. I’ve settled on laying a background (inner) set of small leaves which will hold the more interesting and complex outer layer in place.

The leaves are held in place by veneering tape (easily removed – at least in theory) while the vacuum bag is sucked around the pieces. I’ve deliberately aimed for some leaves to overlap as a backbone but in fact my intention is that the final back will be composed of two shapes so that the bottom part can move semi-independantly of the top.

9th February

Of course I was always going to forget to photograph some stage of the process. I’ve now made the second outer layer of leaves and the picture below shows what they look like after extensive cleaning scraping and sanding and shaping. At this stage, neither the inner nor the outer leaves are glued together and it’s become evident that I need to add four more inner leaves before I can assemble the back.

At the same time as making the extra leaves for the back I’m now ready to make the inner leaves for the front.

7th March

Gradually building up the leaves eventually gives me a front and a back assembly. What actually has to happen is that each leaf needs to be glued in place first, but not glued into place because once the layers are laminated the edges of veneers will have slipped so that they need to be trimmed to the final shape. Only then can they be glued into place.

Leaves glued, but now ready for trimming

Eventually the assemblies are complete and I can then join the front and back bits.

Next comes the head. This is my first attempt at a human head and there are all sorts of things which I’m concerned about.

This has been through all kinds of iterations and it might well go through several more. I think there’s something of an echo of a Nigerian face mask which I really like because Jackie Kay is herself the child of a Nigerian father.
I’m going to be adding more leaves and make the hair as a net of falling leaves.

11th April

Well – the head did go through further iterations and then… we had lockdown. Since this meant the cancellation of Spring Fling I decided to start the head all over again. I had, by this time finished the hair with this head and, again, I wasn’t happy with that.

The picture below shows a head which is now roughly attached to the body and with my second attempt at hair. I’m more or less happy with the head now but the hair is still not right so I’ll come back to that.

Since the photograph – and as a result of looking at it, I’ve reduced the cheek -leaves a bit.

28th April

This is almost a retrograde step. It’s interesting how one can simply not see things until they’re photographed. The arms turn out to look like they belong on a transformer. To quote my friend Moxie it has the look of “1970’s animated, Latvian, cautionary tales for children'”

9th May

This is a bit better. There is still work to be done to make the head better. I need to put more shaped leaves on the top and if possible I want to thin the lips but at least she looks a bit more like a dancer now.

12th June 2020

The mobile is finally finished. You can see a video of the finished item here

I’ve changed the head considerably as well as adding legs and leaves for her to dance through. For now this is a finished peice! The photos below show the dancer alone.