The same call for entry allowed up to 3 submissions. I had much earlier begun to make a conch shell as part of my Cuban exploration. More and more I felt this piece way sympathetic to Costa Verde and should also be submitted. I had a little more to complete and had photographed the process from its start. My submission statement read:
Along the north-eastern coast of Cuba “fossilized” conches litter the fine white, crushed shell beaches. Bleached, battered and pitted by both natural forces and acid rain, conch remains can be found in all sizes. I have cradled, admired and studied these forms, but at the same time must ponder the question of rising sea temperatures, their changing chemical composition and the premature death of these fascinating mollusks. Medium: Tussah and noil silk fibre fused using wallpaper paste, wire support framework, cotton quilt batting, seed beads, and fibre fill. Technique: Sculpted clay maquette, hand formed silk sections stitched together and “repaired” with silk fibre, quilted and beaded.
I was inspired by one of my shell collection examples and began by sculpting a clay version of the piece. I have found that the self-hardening clay available a our Dollarama stores is excellent for this purpose. The clay holds its form well, is not overly messy and dries within a day or two if needed. This series also shows that the sculpture is about 4 times the size of the shell itself. Some of the conches that we have seen are actually this large, or even larger.
Once completed and allowed to dry overnight, I took a small piece of rough coral and hammered the surface to texturize the clay, emulating the acid pitting of the shell itself.
To prevent the clay from discolouring the silk fibre used to create the fused sculptural form, I have found thin plastic wrap a useful material for covering the wet or dry clay. Applying the film to this form was very difficult, and in some tighter areas I gave up trying to get the plastic to stay in place. I ended up removing the plastic layers and applied the silk fibres directly to the clay in the tighter areas of the inner spiral. This resulted in clay adhering to the silk back which had to be wiped off, as best as possible. A coating of shellac over the dried surface might be a better and easier option – for next time.
When I first envisioned this project during the summer, I had pictured a series of conches, arranged in a large spiral installation. Because of the work involved in just this one sculpture, I have not yet repeated the process.
Once the outer layer of tussah and noil were formed, they were allowed to dry – only a matter of a few days. This “skin” was spliced to allow for removal. Before all sections were joined, I decided that the larger areas required reinforcing. I had some fine florists wire which worked. The wire was stitched to the quilt backing. Silk fibres were used to cover the seams and to add more texture.
I should have marked the sections and their joining points before removing, as putting the puzzle back together was a lot more of a mind teaser than I had expected.
Still, the silk form was eventually stitched back to its original shape. The shell itself had fine particles of sand embedded in the etched surface. I felt that some beaded enhancement might add to the sculpture. Talking this idea over with my artist friend Barbara, confirmed my feelings. Beading with a selection of clear, white and copper seed beads provided the illusion of fine grains of sand. I continued beyond the inner spiral to the outer surface as well, following the inspiration of the conch itself.
While beading, I attended to finer details of the form itself, enhancing the tight curl of the spiral point and shaping the bottom of the shell, as well at the outer flap. I also added quilting stitches to further enhance the acidic pitting of the conch. However, despite the wire support, the shell did not hold its form as well as I would have liked. I decided to open a small section and to fill the inside with fibre fill. Once this was completed and the seam repaired, the sculpture’s form was much improved.
This work is very much a matter of composition, just as much as any sculpture or artwork for that matter. Balance of form, colour, line and texture, as well as light and shadow, are all integral and important. It takes time from start to finish, to find that point of satisfaction. Still, next time could always be better!