Mixed Media Odyssey

This summer I’ve been pretty absent from my studio. The reason  behind this hasn’t been the nice weather, or anything so simple. The reason is that I’ve decided to push myself beyond what I’m comfortable with, beyond clay. I’ve spent the last month turning my basement and backyard into a mad scientist’s lab while trying all sorts of new materials. I figured it would be a good idea to sum up my experiments so far. I started with a vague idea that I should carve stuff out of Styrofoam. Here’s where things have developed from there.


Styrofoam is a specific brand of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, that white crumbly stuff. It carves extremely nicely, and apparently most theme park decorations or large advertising objects are EPS coated with urethane and fiberglass.  Anyway, the professional way to do it is to use hot wire tools. I tried that, but found it far too fumey for anywhere inside. However, regular saws and rasps go through it like a breeze, if you don’t mind vacuuming ever 20 minutes.  Straight Pins or flower arranging pins are also very useful, for holding on parts before you’ve glued them. There’s a number of different ways of getting large blocks, but I stuck with scrap pieces while experimenting. I cut apart some old packing materials, gluing them into solid blocks.


I ended up seeing several recommendations for glues to use on Styrofoam, so I just decided to test everything I could find. Here’s my conclusions.

Wood glue/ Elmer’s: Seems to work ok, but the middle sections of your block will never dry. It’s usable, but not ideal.

Gorilla glue: This will dry well, but it’s so much harder than the Styrofoam that it will make carving difficult.

3M 77 spray adhesive: This specifically says not to use it on Styrofoam/ expanded polystyrene. This is because it has acetone in it, which could dissolve the foam. However, if you use as directed (Spray from 12″ away, and wait at least 30seconds before attaching the pieces), the acetone *appears* to evaporate away with out damaging the foam. A test piece created with this hasn’t shown any ill effects after a few weeks, but I wouldn’t use it on anything you want to be archival. That said, it attaches perfectly well, has some flexibility, and the seam carves just like the rest of the foam.

3M Styrofoam spray adhesive: I never had a chance to find this, but I suspect it’s similar to 3M77 but without the acetone. If I was going to be focusing more on Styrofoam in the future, I’d take them time to track it down.


Styrofoam has its downsides, including the fact that it dissolves when exposed to anything with a solvent, such as epoxy or fiberglass. It also won’t be that durable until you can apply some type of coating to it. So, like with the glue, I went about testing different stuff.

Foamcoat: I feel pretty certain that this is something I’ve worked with before, just re-purposed. Heavy duty spackle? Some sort of instant plaster? Regardless, it’s extremely heavy, goes on goopy, and is a bit brittle after it sets. To get a durable coat on, you’d have to apply a lot, maybe 3/8″ coating over everything. I’m not that impressed. At least it’s sand-able. Might be useful when making theater backdrops or something.

Styropoxy 7045: There’s several different varieties of styropoxy. All are designed to go on Styrofoam/EPS, extending its life and making it safe from epoxy and solvents. I bought the 7045, which goes on extra thick and is designed to be sanded afterwords. They also have a Syropoxy 7015 and a 7060, which are thinner and are painted on. The numbers refer to working time. The 7045 handles a bit like a cross between those and bondo (Auto body filler). If I were buy more, I’d go with the 7015 or 7060. Better to get the thinner version, and then supplement it with bondo where needed.

Bondo (after the Styrofoam has been sealed): It’s my first time using Bondo and it appear to be very useful, if very nasty, stuff. It’s made for autobody repair. You apply it, then should sand it right away before it hardens all the way. You can sand it afterwords as well – though a power sander will help. It hardens rock hard and very durable.

Apoxie Sculpt (After the Styrofoam has been sealed): This stuff is like the love child of epoxy and sculpy. It’s a two part clay that will harden rock hard within 24 hours. I’m undecided as to where I stand on it. It’s useful, but I’m not fond of it. I hate sculpting in rubber gloves. It’s close enough to clay I want it to act exactly like clay, and I’m disappointed when it doesn’t. I had more luck carving fine details in after the fact with a dremel, though like everything I’ve been talking about, don’t sand or carve it without a respirator mask.

Acrylic Hard Molding Paste: I’d heard a suggestion online that acrylic molding paste might be a useful top coat, since it’s hard, sandable, and is basically marble dust secured in a polymer. I wasn’t that impressed with it. It clearly would take several coats, and it seem like it’s too flexible to add much in terms of structural integrity to the piece. It would be useful to add texture to go under paint, which is its intended purpose, but not as permanent hard coat for a foam creature. You might be able to put this straight on Styrofoam, but I didn’t try it.

-Other Materials-

Chicken Wire: Chicken wire is actually the reason I don’t see myself doing any more Styrofoam sculptures. I started experimenting with chicken wire to see if it could be used for an armature, only to discover the wire armatures had so much more life and movement than my trial foam pieces. Evidently, I need to sculpt in a material I can bend. I immediately started researching what I could do starting with a base of chicken wire.

Spray Insulation in a Can (Great Stuff/ Hilti): My first experiment was coating the chicken wire in spray foam. I first tried spraying it on the outside of a chicken wire. The foam was a bit hard to control and led to a messy coat about an inch or two thick. I then tried loosely covering the outside of the chicken wire in plastic, and spraying the foam along the inside. While that looked promising at first, the foam fascinatingly shrank back as it cured, sucking the plastic in with it. I ended up giving up on both methods regardless, because the end foam is too squishy, and I’ve heard some people online claiming it can shrink over time. In short, not archival quality.

AB polyurethane foam: AB foam is pretty cool stuff, and actually the present focus of my experiments. You mix to parts together for 30second, and then it rapidly expands between 10 and 18 times its original volume, setting carvably hard within five minutes. I’ve been experiment with coating chicken wire forms in plastic, and then pouring the foam into the form. It expands, pushing out the plastic, creating a carveable coating around the chicken wire form. I’m still experimenting with various plastics, but I think this is a promising line of experimentation. You can apply bondo or fiberglass directly to polyurethane foam, unlike Styrofoam/polystyrene..

-The next step!-

I have an chicken wire armature ready to turn into my first full size foam beastie, one about 4 foot tall. I’m planing on building a structural system of metal rods and PVC pipe inside the armature. I’ll coat it with AB foam using my plastic wrapping method. After that, I’ll sand it smooth and coat it all with a thin coating of bondo to give it more structural integrity. I think I might finish it with autobody paints. I feel pretty good about this plan, though I do have more finishing methods still lined up to test. There’s a chance this all might have to wait a bit, since I’ve heard talk of another woodfiring, but I can’t wait to turn this research into a finished piece!

— www.evafunderburgh.com —

Dispersing Swarm

Installing “Swarm” was a really fun process, one that got me thinking much more about installation, public art, and audience interaction. I have to admit, however, I wasn’t expect to be getting as much out of its dispersal as I have been.
Swarm, another view
I’d always planned to give away many of the fliers before I left Guldagergaard. When ever I work on a project with multiple bits, I often give parts away. Most often I’ll make many tiny eggs, giving them to fellow woodfirers, other artists, friends, visitors to the studio, all sorts of folks. I just enjoy something about the exchange of physical object that become representations of memory. Like something that might be lost for a year in the pocket of a winter coat, only to be found again like a prize, refound with either a rush of memories or wonder of how that could be there.

So with that in mind, I’ve been giving away fliers, to the artists who shaped my time at Guldagergaard, to fellow studio mates, and good friends. I’ve been selling them as well, through my studio, the Island Gallery on Bainbridge, and through Etsy.

It’s been so cool, watching them go on to new lives. It’s amazing to me to see something made by my hands disperse and bring happiness all over. On a whim, I made a google map of all the place they’ve gone. It’s made my day, and it will just continue to be exciting as it keeps filling in with new locations!

View Swarm, 2010 in a larger map

A Final Look at Guldagergaard

I kept procrastinating on writing up an overall summary of my time a Guldagergaard. I wrote a draft during my last week there, only to decide that it was totally inadequate at capturing even part of my experience. Since then, I’ve spent a week sight seeing in Denmark, returned home, and tackled nearly everything I could think of that wasn’t working on the blog. At this point, I’ve run out of other errands to do and have decided, that regardless of how awkward or incomplete it might feel, it’s worth trying to really sum up everything and think about my time at Guldagergaard.
GG is going well. Each day is a mix of working, talking with the other artists, exploring skaelskor, and more work.

The reason I started looking for a residency in the first place was I felt I needed a push. I wasn’t in a rut, but I felt like I could see the start of one. I enjoy my critters, but I wanted to understand them more, to figure out how to make them better, and how to push myself further as an artist. In short, I’d reached a point where felt my work was in need of some growth. I figured the best way to go about this was to apply for a residency. I want to put myself in different surroundings, in a different culture as a method of shaking myself out of my habits. After some research, I decided to apply to Guldagergaard in Denmark, a place I’d first heard about a few years back. I spent a while thinking about a how to structure my residency, and looking for a project to focus. While artist growth was my overall goal, I work best with hard deadlines. I decided to finally tackle an idea that had been kicking around in my head for a while. I wanted to tie my present small monsters back in with earlier college work in installation, creating a giant swarm of beasts. I proposed making as many tiny flying beasts as I could in my time there, turning the pieces from individuals into one giant mass, an exploration of movement, numbers, and space.
In the end, Guldagergaard decided to accept my application and project proposal. I packed my bags and headed off into the land of tasty pastries, wind power, and unpronounceable words.

walk by the beach

Guldagergaard has wonderful facilities. It has an excellent collection of kilns and work areas, not to mention it’s permanent collection of sculptures or it’s library of ceramic literature. Its location in a sculpture park is idyllic, perfect for wandering and musing. I would walk to the top a large earthworks piece with a thermos of tea and a sketchbook almost every sunny day. However, none of those are what makes Guldagergaard work – Guldagergaard works because of the people. We averaged about 7 guest artist and artists in residence during my time there, in addition to some wonderful administrative and technical staff.  This means you’re constantly working with new people with wonderfully new ideas. Almost every week, someone would head back home and someone else would arrive. With them, they’d bring a different approach to ceramics. It was amazing to see so many different approaches and philosophizes about clay, and to work with so many different artists. Every night we’d sit down a communal dinner, cooked by a different artist, and talk about about everything from art to knock knock jokes.

Karen Lisa

In the end, while I definitely found my artistic growth and new sources of inspirations, also I feel like my original installation proposal worked out even better than I could have hoped. It was my first time making such a large piece with so many parts. I typically just make one beast at a time, and move on to the next. This was a very different experience, to say the least. I was very sick of making fliers at points, to say the least. I ended up making about ninety fliers, each one hand made and unique. (The idea of casting them just didn’t feel right, though it would have been faster). I made them all in about two and a half weeks, using a week and a half the fire and install them. Mette, one of the administrators, talked to a local elementary school and arranged for me to temporarily install my piece in an unused classroom. This was a brainstorm for which I’m incredibly grateful. I’d never worked with kids, and never done anything even resembling public art before. Even entering the school was strange for me. I don’t think I’d been in an elementary school since 6th grade, and I kept expecting someone to call me out on being in the hall between classes. It was even stranger once I went and hung out in the teachers lounge, and realized that some were no older than me. Weird deja vu aside, it was fascinating to see the piece come together, as I hung each beast from the framework. I had expected the increase in numbers to turn the fliers intimidating. Surely, when confronted with a person-sized mass of tiny beasts with teeth, a viewer must feel some level of threat.  However, the opposite effect occurred. Instead of amplifying their slight menace, the increase in numbers amplified their joy. Each one demonstrated pure joy in movement and flight, while being frozen mid flap in a massive and likewise frozen mob. It was fascinating. I can’t wait to try and make an even larger one.
Likewise, creating an installation in a public space was also new and very exciting for me. After the work was finished, I got to talk with several of the older classes of English students and let them check out the piece. The only real interaction my work has had with the public before this has been the occasional art opening. Sure, that’s the public, but it’s the art viewing public. These were a bunch of Danish 12 to 14 year olds just trying to go through their school day – and it made them smile. I’ve always appreciated it when my work could make other people smile. This was new, and more powerful version of that. It’s made me think more about public art, installation and all sorts of crazy things for the future. And I think that in all, that’s one of the most exciting things about my time in Denmark.

Guldagergaard week 1

I’ve been at Guldagergaard for a week now. Strange to think I’m already 1/5 of the way done with my time here. It’s been a pretty cool experience so far, and is clearly a great community.

GG is set up so that various artist come in from all different countries, staying in an old manor house, and working together in the studios, which at one time were the horse stables. We presently have 7 artists and assistants from Finland, Denmark, Canada, and the US, with a number of other folks wondering in for a day or two. The assistants spend part of the day firing kilns and what not, but work on their own projects too. We’re all working on our own work, but since we’re in a communal space, it’s a great set up for exchanging ideas and theory. The work of the other artists range from functional ware, to figurative sculpture, to wonderfully abstract glass pieces. The glass artist is here in order to figure out how to incorporate ceramic material into her pieces.
While everyone put forward proposals about what they’d be working on while they’re here, the set up is so inspiring and filled with new ideas that they may end up working in the entirely opposite direction. My proposal was to build a giant swarm of flying creatures as an installation. While I have quite a few additional ideas I think I’m going to explore, I’m going to keep going on the flying beasts as well at the same time.

Guldagergaard itself is very cool, as well. In addition to wonderful assortment of kilns and supplies, it also has extensive library of ceramic related reading material. And that’s not even mentioning its actually collection of ceramics, both in its gallery and in the house! I’ve been making sure to use a different mug every day, but I still need to go spend some time staring at the amazing work in the gallery. It’s tough to avoid feeling intimidated by the sheer amount of incredible work around.


It’s also located in the middle of a public sculpture park, with random members of the public wondering by on their bikes, and occasionally sticking their heads into the studio. My favorite part of the sculpture park is a giant earthwork spiral mound. By walking around it, you eventually reach the flattened top with a view of windmills, housing developments, and fields. When I walked to the top today, I walked right by a hare, hunkered flat, trying incredibly hard to convince me of its own invisibility.


My average day seems to be chunks of two to three hours in the studio, interspersed with exploring, eating, and talking with the other artists. I have access to a bike, and often take off in a random direction with a thermos of tea and my sketch book. The movement and the sight seeing helps me think. I’m generally in the studio until after 11 at night, which is actually a fun change for me – reminds me of my college days.
So that about sums up my observations on the place so far. It’s just a really great place to be and to be making art. I’ve uploaded some of the pictures I’ve taken so far to flickr!


I had some very odd news this week.

One of my pieces, Cuckoos #3: Unexpected Twist, just finished being displayed in the 3rd Biennial Concordia Continental Ceramics Competition in St. Paul, MN.  I’d been stressing about the piece being shipped back, since it’s both large and delicate.  When I got a call on Monday from the organizer, I immediately started worrying, only to be utterly surprised.  The piece had been stolen.

While the gallery was open for local artists to pick up their work, someone had walked in and left with four piece that did not belong to them.  The university didn’t realize the problem until they were preparing to pack up the out-of-town pieces. A vase by Leopold Foulem, a wonderful teapot-ish sculpture by Gerald Ferrari, and a piece by Kevin Snipes were also taken.  (Gerald has a very insightful blog post about the theft.) The total listed value for the work was over $12,000, most of that was due to Foulem’s vase. All the same, a life of crime stealing ceramics sculptures is hardly a way to get rich quick. Heck, if there’s a way to get rich in ceramics, there’s lots of ceramics artists who’d love to know about it.

Overall, my response has mostly been confusion.  I am a bit worried about my piece, as to whether or not its safe.  My biggest fear if that some scofflaws just grabbed it on a whim, and it’s been trashed somewhere.  That would break my heart.  The university has said that they’ll deal with the insurance, so at least I’m not worrying about that.  They could have handled the show taken down better, but no sense in being angry about that – they didn’t want this to happen either. I guess it’s a bit flattering that someone likes the piece so much, but really, it would have been better to for them to just buy it.  It’s been so weird seeing pictures of it on the local news, and having my relatives emailing each other about it. Add to all that, it’s not a small piece! It’s large enough it needs to be carried in both arms, and the surface is delicate enough that it could be scratched by snaps or zippers. While I guess do feel strangely honored to be on a list that includes everyone from Miro and Van Gogh to the other 3 artists from this show, I would really rather people just didn’t do stuff like this. It’s so disrespectful to the artists, the work, and the institution that it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around it.

Not cool, random thief, not cool.