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Balsa Challenge – Update (17/4/21)

Today I’ve been able to perfect the stand for the jumping horse that I attempted last time I was in the studio. I felt that I hadn’t made it sturdy enough, so I had to consider how I was going to resolve that issue.

An idea I had was to extend the stand to fit within the body of the horse, which meant reworking how I fit the horse together. This meant I had to cut into the body for the top of the stand to lock in place. Then I could continue adding the layers to create the horse. Another difference with this horse is the angle of the head to be more accurate. The final change was the arrangement of the layers that make up the head section. I’ve decided to see how it looks with them all moving down slightly. This feels odd as I try to balance out how it looks. If I’m honest I’ve never been truly happy with the heads. When I get them right I don’t mind replacing them all on the horses I would like to keep for the final series which I’m building up.

Moving on I want to stay with the horse, but it’s the pose I need to be inspired by so I’ll need to start looking and see what inspires me next. Until then I’m satisfied with today’s result concerning the stand, I can apply that technique to future pieces that require a stand.

Balsa Challenge – Update (14/4/21)

Today I’ve made my first attempting at a jumping horse, which may look the same in principle to a galloping horse with no legs on the ground. However the difference is the positioning of the legs as the horse rises up, instead of merely hovering over ground momentarily as they travel. There’s more intent in the motion too.

What held me back from making this piece as I was concerned about the presentation of horse, how should it look as the motion is depicted and held. My distraction the other day only delayed what Inow know to be essential to improve today’s piece. I have the horse on a stand that’s connected to a base, it’s part of it as I feel to hide the stand as hedge or fence etc really draws your eye to that fixture and it’s construction. Also I feel it creates an image that really is detracts from it as the images as the horse’s form is compromised. I found the mane to be tricky as well as it appears from the source image to hang over one side. I’ve previously had the hair of the mane bouncing upwards.

To improve on the next piece I need to reconsider my approach to incorporate the stand before the layers are added. It needs to sit within the body so it’s stronger. However I need to also consider the height of rear legs so that the stand is slightly longer to fit into the base. So I may need to construct the legs and layers and fix in place once this extra element. It’s confusing when you have to rethink a tried and tested method of making to a process that has seen a number of pieces. I need adapt it for this pose now. Otherwise I’m happy with the results so far, visually the piece works

Balsa Challenge – Update (10/4/21)

It’s been one of those days where I’ve blown away by the results of the day. Beginning with work on a new figure that lead to the creation of a scene from the Wild West.

Last time in the studio I had attempted to make a larger figure than my first balsa figure, something I didn’t really think was a step in another direction for this work. I see it as a necessary to complete the piece. The first attempt was far too small to sit against the horse which towered over the figure. I knew I needed to double the size, along with possibly using layers to build up the figure. Ultimately that only applied to the main body, the limbs were made up with square dowel into carved and angled pieces. After stopping for lunch I realised this first attempt of the day was not going anywhere, learning that I had improve the layers of the main body. So I started from scratch, focusing on the layers to build up the body, constantly carving away as I added layers, wanting to blend them in the best I could. Then I added the legs and arms which fitted far better now that I’ve got into a rhythm of making. If I continue I’ll be building up a method for future figurative pieces. The idea of laters will develop as poses change. Honestly they don’t really interest me at the moment.

Once the figure was completed I moved onto working on the bases. Both horse and wrangler would sit on individual pieces that I wanted to connected to fill the gap, also acting to help with the lasso effect. An extra piece of balsa was connected with a mortice and tenon joint. I wish I had done that earlier in the process as I had to be careful with the horse when I was cutting away balsa to allow the join to take hold. The finishing touch of the string was perfect, following a tutorial to create a lasso knot I fitted the loop in place before fixing it into the hands of the wrangler and onto the base.

Looking at this piece, it’s insane the level of detail, the work that’s gone into it. I feel that the wrangler may let it down in terms of its construction in comparison. On the other hand the lengths I went to create this pose is incredible, taking the time to hook up a lasso. I now feel that I can go the extra mile now. However I feel it does lean into becoming a Wild West statuette too, that’s the line I’m crossing now. Next up I want to tacked the jumping horse, but I need to sketch out a few ideas for presentation as I’m still apprehensive to jump right in and start another horse without knowing where the support/stand sits.

Divorce in the 50’s in Film

Film censorship in the height of the 1950’s usually prevented the discussion of the then taboo subject of divorce being dealt with on screen. If a character ever entered into an extramarital affair they couldn’t end the film running away with their new lover. Instead they had to pay the consequences and understand that the sanctity of marriage and the importance of the home. There would always be a cleverly worked in plot device or cliche that lead the married couple back to each other. Reminding the audience that it’s better to work things out, to know they are better off married than going through the mess of the divorce courts, which required a lot more money and a valid reason to lead happier life away from a broken down marriage.

Just recently I’ve watched Journey to Rome/Viaggio a Italia (1954) and Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957) both look at the effects of divorce, affairs and broken down marriages. Ingrid Bergman the star of Rome and married to director Roberto Rossellini after the Hollywood scandal that saw her divorce her Lars Schmidt to be with Rosellini, the Italian Realist director which lead to a trilogy of films together. In the film she’s pair opposite George Sanders in a marriage where they walking on ice, at moments pleasant and amicable, before tearing into one, it’s painful to watch before Alex Joyce (Sanders) bites the bullet and asks for a divorce. It’s not really a shock as we can see they having been growing apart both physically and emotionally. Spending less time together as they try to sell Alex’s uncles home. Being in this foreign country places them in a bind to be both friendly to those around them yet we see how difficult it is to hold it together for appearances.

The build up to the idea of divorce even being mentioned comes towards the end of the film. After Alex returns home from what could easily be seen as an affair with a local woman whom he met a party one night. Meeting the following day the affair it could be argued began.

Whereas in Woman in a Dressing Gown the affair that lead to the threat of divorce is seen from the very start as Jim (Anthony Quayle) wants to leave his wife of 20 years Amy (Yvonne Mitchell) a housewife who has let the running of their flat get away from her. Domestic life literally consumes her life but has a strong spirit and personality that allows her to keep going. The audience naturally feels more for what is coming her way, the threat of divorce so her Jim can leave her to be with his lover and homewrecker Georgie (Sylvia Syms) who he spends all day at work with and every Sunday.

There’s more a sense of guilt surrounding Jim as he prepares to leave his wife and family. Pushed to do so by Georgie to allow them to be together, at first putting it off because of bad timing. The pressure of his lover vs the power and pulls of domestic life that doesn’t allow for that perfect moment when the family life he built with Amy would be crushed. The audience feels awkward, looking in on this domestic situation, Quayle an actor best known for his brave military characters is now at home facing a different fight for his future happiness. Whilst Amy, the films woman in the dressing gown is blissfully happy in her homemaker role, doing just enough to feed and cloth the family. She’s clearly skilled but lets things run away from her, burning food to piles of un-ironed laundry that seems to mount up with every scene. Having no idea that her husband has been lying to her every Sunday he’s been leaving home for the arms of his much younger lover.

There’s no family for Katherine (Bergman) who instead we see longing for what the women on Naples have, seeing multiple women in just one street pregnant. Viewing this as a way to fix her failing marriage. We and Alex can see that having brought a child into the equation would have made their situation ten times worse. To bring a child into a loveless marriage in hopes of saving them rarely works and only delays the inevitable separation. We can see from the inclusion of teenage Brian (Andrew Ray) that he takes his mothers side as he sees his family fall apart. Able to stand up to his father. Alex in Rome has cleverly avoided the addition of a child for those reasons. He may not appear to have a heart but knows it would be cruel to make his life worse by being that selfish.

Of course these are sensibilities of the 1950’s that placed the home at the centre of society, the nuclear family being the key to success in adult life. Getting married only to realise that you want out a few years later was seen as a personal failure of not making the marriage work. Being married in a church as many more couples were would be frowned upon to break the vows made before god. Gown goes much further in the effect of the potential for divorce, we see how it can lead to be broken home, even for an hour or so after Jim walks away with his lover. It takes a Roman Catholic procession to literally drag Katherine away from Alex to bring them back together, that physical pull away a metaphor for a life away from each other is more than they can bear. The couple are reunited and love reaffirmed in a Hollywood ending, which feels out of place for an Italian realist film that wants to show at its rawest. To have two Hollywood actors put in that situation is too much for the audience to bear.

Whilst in Gown the talk of separation is deeper, the couple have a night to sleep on it (in the same bed, which went against British censorship of the time). Amy’s accepts the idea at first, being in shock. However the next morning she becomes a domestic goddess, out to prove her worthiness and need in his life, to show she can change. Even going as far as pawning her engagement ring to get her hair styled. She’s willing to transform herself in order to compete with Georgie the threat to her marriage. Before realising she’s done nothing wrong. She instead falls back on the history they share together and her determination to make a go of single life with her son. By far the braver performance of the two wife. Willing to fight, whilst Katherine can only go so far before forces beyond her control make her realise the error of her decision. The husbands both ask for the divorces but it’s the fight in the wives that see them stay together. Jim maybe able to support himself but he knows that a divorce will be costly for themselves emotionally and financially, more so than the Alex and Katherine from a middle class background, enjoying servants won’t suffer as much.

Ultimately both films are compelled by censorship of both Italy and the UK to tow the line of family values and traditions of a religion and marriage to stay together. It wouldn’t be until the following decades that the breakdown of a marriage and modern life would be more truly depicted on-screen. In the UK the kitchen sink movement would depict a world of honest view of life.

Balsa Challenge – Update (7/4/21)

I felt my practice is coming back full circle on itself as I began work on my current piece. Honestly I like the way fate has led me back around. I wanted to create a jumping horse, but I still feel it’s a way off in terms of realising it. I’ve got ideas of how presentation could lead to that goal. For now I’m struggling to visualise how that would be constructed. I know I would have to embrace the construction of the illusion.

Today during my research into jumping horses I came across a photograph by Ernst Haas who captured the behind the scenes of the shoot for The Misfits (1961). It was an image of a stuntman standing in for Clark Gable wrangling a horse. It was the image of the horse as it stood upright as it was resisting being restrained by Gables character. I was captivated by the pose and ultimately the who image. It seems my practice as come full circle back to the Western. As much as I want to steer clear of it I found my way back through my choice of artistic references that led me back to the beginning of my practice.

I’m feeling now the start of the process for these pieces has become routine now. It’s the pose that changes things, if only slightly. The whole body could have been cut from one sheet this time as the horse is standing upright now. I accidently changed the pose when I was drawing up the hind legs that act as the anchors. It’s only slight as it’s still believable with the front legs to be where they are. A change to the work comes in the mane and tail, which responded to the motion. They are both reduced in thickness, I’ve been experimenting with the technique more to respond to the motion, with a thin strip of balsa appearing in the mane, and two pieces mirroring each other on the tail.

The horse is now pretty much complete, but not the image or the action in the pose that caught my attention. So I turned my attention to the wrangler, which is essentially a human figure, which i’ve not attempted before. A lot of information his hidden but I did a first good attempt using off-cuts I’ve been saving. It’s roughly half the size I want it to be. I need to adapt my technique again to a larger scale figure.

I’m hoping to fix the figure to another base, which will be connected to the horse, what will connect them will be a string lasso, another first for me in all my years of recreating the wild west. However I don’t think I’ll be dwelling too long in this world as I want to keep experimenting through making one off pieces that continue to push me.

Balsa Challenge – Update (5/4/21)

I almost didn’t make it in today to the studio as it was actually snowing, thankfully none of that settled, instead remaining bitterly cold. Allowing me to get into and back from the studio unhindered by snow.

Today marked the start of the next phase of this work, carrying on with the horses I want to look at other poses and how I can realise them including their presentation. After doing some visual research I made a start on a new piece that sees a horse standing up on its hind legs, a pose that I needed to work upto before I even attempted it a few weeks ago. I needed to have the test pieces and experiments before I arrived at today’s work that I started and finished today.

Initially it was challenging, going through a little more balsa for the main body than I had anticipated, which I overcame well. What made this piece slightly easier was that the two rear legs had very similar poses, which they needed to be to ensure it stands up correctly and remain balanced. Beyond the dramatic poses the mane and tail are far more gestural, cutting bigger shapes than usual to suggest the movement. You could say that it’s not natural looking, moving into something more fantastical.

Now I consider looking at possible constructing a horse that’s jumping over a hedge, replicating a horse race. The hedge could be worked into the presentation instead of just being there for structural support it’s embraced and makes it more than it is.

Balsa Challenge – Update (4/4/21)

My second of three days in the studio was a success as I completed the last test piece of the current run of horses I’ve been working on. The aim was to see if I could create the illusion of as galloping horse with all four legs off the ground. I knew that it was possible through dowel being shared between two horses, if the other horse had at least one leg anchored to a base.

I know that this is more than possible with the right planning to reduce breakages and clean cuts as possible. The previous piece worked with the anchor leg close to the horse it was supporting. This weekends I pushed that by switching it to the outside, which I discovered can take the weight but does wobble. I’m ok with that as I can handle it from the base and just being cautious around it.

I’m really happy with the piece as it’s a culmination of a number of test pieces that were inspired by Frederic Remington’s Coming through the Rye (1905). I didn’t want to simply replicate it but use use it as inspiration to push what I can do with balsa wood in the form of a horse. Now I want to push it further with different poses that I’ve sourced. I’ve got an understanding of how I could potentially present future pieces, each will probably make use of more 12mm balsa as a base, which previously was just the basic frame for the body. Now it has the potential to become more. Lastly I’m enjoying seeing how I work with the material in a different way, it’s not just a substitute for wood on a model scale, it’s a material in it’s own right that has its own properties

Balsa Challenge – Update (3/4/21)

I’ve begun a three day run at the studio after being kept away for reasons beyond my control. I’m working during a time when balsa wood is becoming very sparse in the UK due to covid-19. I’m having to source from suppliers who themselves are struggling. So I’m working with cuts that I’ve never seen before or thought existed. So I’ll be adapting to this situation that affects model makers and creatives that are all experiencing the same shortfall in supply.

My aim for the day was to have one completed piece, something I’ve not been considering with this work since I started. The standard of the work has increased to a point where the piece I’ve just finished is one in it’s own right. I want to stay at this level now for a while and remaining with the horse. I began the day working on the remaining mane, an element that I’ve struggled with. The last one I made was an improvement, using layers of 1.6mm balsa to build up the element of the horse. I then applied this technique to the tails which felt a little unbalanced. The 2nd of the pair has more motion as I allowed the layers to create a more realistic tail that’s caught in the motion of galloping. Looking at this pair of horses I’m happy with the progress, the stepping back to improve. Ultimately taking my time has paid off.

After lunch I moved onto the final pair (for now at least) that flips the experiments variables; the anchor leg to the outside. So far I’ve made up the main bodies of the horses. Choosing one previous pose and a new one for the horse with legs off the ground. Sadly I’ve exhausted the tough balsa for the anchor leg, I’m hoping what I’ve chosen takes the weight still. I’ve also roughly marked out where the dowel will be fitted. I could be have two pieces close together, or simply increasing the thickness by 50%. Yet part of me wants to keep twin pieces apart.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this pair turns out, the changing variable whilst everything else remains mostly the same. Carrying through the technique on tail and mane to all future pieces. When I leave the twin pieces behind I’ll be looking at more complex poses with single horses to look how how I display them before bringing more back in again at least. I’m really enjoying this work that has finally produced a finished piece, I could claim a Gorilla is worth the same status, on reflection the others may fall short of that status.

Balsa Challenge – Update (28/3/21)

The focus of today was to see if my idea for two galloping horses riding together (with hidden supports) would work. I can safely say it was a success.

Picking up where I left off yesterday I was able to initially draw and cut out the legs on the sides that would be meeting. I went for the anchor leg sitting in the middle for this piece. At this stage I would also draw and cut out part on the upper layer of the respective horse to fix the leg. I decided this time to at least have them in place and held with masking tape. This would allow me to see where I could place the square dowel without any cutting going ahead and damaging the legs if there were already in place. I decided that I should also push the legs out a little further to the front and rear of the bodies giving me slightly more room and increase realism further.

Once I had the positions of the dowel (closer together) sorted I cut and excavated the balsa to allow the dowel to be sunk into place. I also had to consider the gap between the two bodies that I was connecting. Part of me wanted to have them the horses running exactly parallel to one another. Instead I went for just off to allow the legs to sit in front or behind to help close the gap between the two. Once the mess of cutting out the spaces I fixed all the legs in place before bringing the horses together. It was pretty quick after my previous attempt to get the anchor leg into a base that sat mostly under the horse with all 4 legs off the ground.

With the two horses up I had the desired effect that I have been working towards for the past few weeks. Having a few hours left in the studio I decided to complete as much of the horses as I could. Both now have a head, whilst one has a mane too. I find manes to be more complex as I’m working with thinner balsa is more cumbersome and they take longer than expected. They are getting better with each one that I make but there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast method to them. Sadly I didn’t have time to make the rest of the horses, I’ll return next weekend or later in the week to carry on.

I feel that out of curiosity I want to see how the other set-up would work. Concerning the anchor leg, could the leg support the other horse if it was further away. At this point I think it easily could. With a small length of dowel reducing the pull on the weight of that horse. I’m confident enough now to see what happens. After these two are complete I feel I’ve met this particular challenge. I want to stay working with horses as they are an animal that produce a wide range of poses I can work with. Also with a presentation technique that I can work with an embrace – I’m quite happy to have the illusion on show if seen from the correct angle. Lastly I want to stay with Muybridge to see what else he captured in more detail. There’s so much potential going on right now it’s knowing which direction to go in next.

Balsa Challenge – Update (27/3/21)

After deciding to run before I could walk again as I make more progress on my second attempt at a galloping horse with all it’s legs off the ground.

I came at it with the target of fixing the horse to a solid wall with a solid base. This would allow me to perfect the basics of how to the connection works. Moving beyond that without knowing how it works was a step to far last time. I also changed my technique for fixing the dowels into place. By first fitting the legs on the side of the dowel before making and cuts for the dowel. This turned out to be a mixed result. I decided to move the dowel away from the legs which made things slightly easier, less layers to work through. However I introduced a mini hand saw into the process, with a hope of cutting into the balsa with ease. It didn’t turn out that way. The blades too long and the metal too soft to really do what I wanted to do with it. I feel I can still use it but not as I had thought. Instead I had to rely on my trusted slide knife to do more of the work which was cleaner than last time. Moving the work away from the legs was a good move.

When I had the remaining legs in place I turned my attention to the stand and wall which would hold the horse in place. After some trial and error I had my horse in place once I worked out the right height to fix the horse at. Looking at the piece you can see the effect is successful, the illusion is made and hidden from view until you move around too much. The main thing is that the technique works. Allowing me to move onto the next stage, where I jumped to last time.

Now I have the start of two horses in the studio, a copy of the previous horses from the previous days in the studio. I’ve decided to reduce the distance between the square dowel too. My main concern is which way round do I position the horse with one leg on the ground. It’s a structural consideration that has me changing my mind constantly right now. Do I place the leg on the outside to take the weight there, or would that put in under strain. If it was placed on the inside next to the dowel it would be able to take the weight more immediately. I need to sleep on it and decide when I return to the studio. Also for now as I’m working purely on structure I’m not making any heads, manes or tails, these are finishing details that really don’t affect the weight