Thursday, June 3, 2010

Poetical Modesty, In Progress - Stage 1.

As I've been squirreled away in Studio Lo Bue for the last month+, it's time I get you up to date on the creation of my newest sculptural work, which at this moment is about two days from completion. I need to give you some background on how it came to be.

The last year of experimenting with my kiln and various glass techniques has led me to working out how to fuse imagery onto sheets of glass. For the first time (ever!) I'm feeling a little bit proprietary about the process, so give me some time to explore it further before I disclose how it is done (simply put: sorry!). Suffice it to say it is a tweaked adaptation of several available products and processes. Whatever the case, I am able now to make my own species of ambrotype. This was a 19th-century form of photograph in which the film emulsion was brushed directly onto glass and a negative image exposed onto it. When the glass image was backed with black velvet, the image would read as a correct positive. Any of you who see tintypes in little cases regularly will have seen many ambrotypes without even realizing it - they appear to be tintypes once they are backed with black.

After getting this method to yield satisfying results, I decided, as a piece made especially for my upcoming exhibition, to create a piece of digital collage artwork and then to fuse it to glass, thereby creating my first digital/glass hybrid. The name of the digital piece, and by extension the whole sculpture to accompany it, is POETICAL MODESTY. Here is the glass plate getting fired to fuse the image.


...and cooling (note lower shelf of experiment images).

The finished plate as seen backed with white. It is about 7.25" tall. When it is placed in front of a dark color, it reads this way:

As I prepared to fire the piece, it occurred to me to make some kind of turning crank that would raise and lower the piece into a black 'stage' or box. I prepped for that by making sure there were two holes in the top of the glass to be used for mounting to an as-yet-unknown system.

I felt that somehow the perfect place to start on creating a mechanism for the glass plate was to create a beautiful, extraordinary hand crank. I happened to be browsing on that day through images of historic astrolabes. The crank's design is adapted from an amazing Persian astrolabe from 1660.

A real piercing challenge, using 16 gauge (1/16" thick) brass.

Cutting the wheel out first.

And the design slowly appears:

Riveting on a gorgeous tiny brass drawer-pull as a finger grip.

I spent a few nights tossing in my half-sleep, trying to think of the enclosure for this plate to drop into. I knew I had several boxes that might work, but one of them - this Russian 19th-century carved wooden box - was sized perfectly. I have been loath to use this box in the past (I've been saving it for about 14 years), as the beauty of the carving is breathtaking. But I just couldn't ignore the appropriateness of the box. It was at this point that I knew I was going to have a very special object on my hands.

And just to make me see that my choice was a correct one, I pawed through my extensive stash of Victorian keys - and after an hour, found one that operates the catch - what are the odds??

Letting them get to know each other so a design will emerge.

I placed the box face-down so that I could open the bottom up and leave the carved top intact - the carving would act as the back of the finished piece. I decided to accentuate the ambrotype quality of the glass piece by creating a brass frame around the hole in the box. I scanned and adapted an actual tiny daguerreotype frame and got ready to fabricate a large brass frame for the front of the piece.

Printed onto special etching transfer paper.

And ready to iron it to the metal to act as a resist.

Ready to be etched.

This was the first time I've tried to etch using only salt water and a "D" battery - in my aerating vertical etch tank it was brilliant - a non-toxic way to etch. I'll be sticking with this.

Out of the brine.

Removing the center. A daunting job for a jeweler's saw due to the dimensions.

Beveling the edges.

At this point ideas are coming fast. Some sketching gives me some ideas for a pulley system, which I've decided to fabricate from scratch.

Although initially I'm not sure I'll use it, I am drawn to this old Indian candelabra (I used part of the matching one in my book piece "The Diary of an Antiquary" from last year). Once I start drawing the candelabra as part of the piece, the whole structure falls tentatively into place. And it will become a sort of rough blueprint for me to follow:

Next week - stage two.


  1. Wow! Keith, this is looking amazing (as if there would be any doubt)loving your etching bath- a 'D' battery you say? Mmmm...

  2. Reasons why I love and admire you to pieces can be summed up by highlighting this quote of yours from the above text:

    "I happened to be browsing on that day through images of historic astrolabes." As one does, naturally.

    Amazing amazing amazing to see your incredible artistry and craftsmanship at work. can't wait til next week's post! x Traci

  3. Oh Keith or should I say MR Lobue,words cannot describe what a truly talented craftsman’s artist you are, to say this post took my breath away is an understatement, you are a really Aussie treasure,you have reached a all new high in your work if that is possible.

  4. Keith, I thought these were found object that you worked with. I am in aw of you. I now worship you and kneel before you humbled and amazed. I cannot wait to see the completed piece.
    Thank You for this post and your incredible work.

  5. I could actually feel your excitement building as I read through this, amazed and astounded, per usual. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your adventures with us. You are a primary inspiration in my life!

  6. You rock! Can't wait to see how it all turns out and I will value it all the more knowing how much work went into it. Thank you for sharing the details of the process.

  7. Now THAT's shock and awe! Keith, I seem to recall back in the late 60s, early 70s Eleanor Moty was using photographic imagery on glass, but I don't know how she did that; it may have actually been a form of silk screening. You have taken the idea to its highest expression yet. Double WOW, triple-dipple wow, carried by taxicabs. Love it that you make your OWN process; that's true stuffsmithing. xoxo, P.

  8. Some sort of high-tech wizardry is afoot.
    I am amused

  9. Christina M. AndersonJune 4, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Inspiring,inspiring,inspiring!Forge ahead, Mr. Wizard!

  10. jesus,mary and joseph and all the saints on holy cards!!!

    my drool cup is in place.

    your passion and creativity is infectious. may we all be infected. !!!

  11. It's just wrong how how freakin' creative you are! Kudos to you!

  12. keith, do you teach longer workshops at your studio? I am fascinated on the technical mechanics of your metal work, glass, engineering ideas. I would love to take a summer long class with you one day!!!!

  13. Keefa--- I cannot believe that we are really truly amaze me! I am so excited to be able to watch your work from afar. Can't wait to follow Poetical Modesty as it comes to life in your post. Love,

  14. If you're ever stumped for a blog post (AAHAHaha), I'm sure there's others who'd love a stickybeak studio tour...that first image is a tease!