looking back at the conceptual development and model making to the Motional Figure

At some point it had been apparent that we wanted to install the piece ready for the London Olympics, sport had always been a major part of the piece’s creation. In order to be ready for this the sculpture was put into storage for some months.

Making a good moment to reflect and look back over the development stages, some of the models and maquettes.

Initially I made a simple paper model,   drawing out all of the near exact cutting lines for the four sides on a sheet of A3 paper with a pencil, I more or less got this guess right straight off, so cut this out and fixed it together with tabs and glue, to make a 200mm high model.
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Taking copies of the initial drawing outlines to my old college friend, Julian, to discuss making the piece together. Simply by enlarging photocopies of my initial freehand drawings we were fairly quickly able to glue these to a sheet of steel 1mm thick, and cut around the edges with tin snips. Holding the pieces together while Julian tack welded we soon had the three main parts defined and assembled about 300mm high; Julian welded all along the edges and I shaped and ground out the weld to bring in the sculptural finish. I had some thin brass sheet; the enlarged photo copies were stuck to this and snipped out the side loop I positioned while Julian soldered the joints with a mini blow torch, then soldering it to the main figure. This formed well, though some of the shape simplified. I then finished it at my workshop in Birmingham grinding the corners and setting the radius to complete.

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This is the process:

From drawings:

Initial concept paper 3 D model 200 mm model  —— › 300 mm steel model prototype

I took these to the initial assessment meeting with Elmbridge Borough Council, meeting the Director of Culture and leisure Ian Burrows, Maggs Latter Arts development Officer, Borough Surveyor, Liz Taylor and a representative for the X cell Leisure Complex. A risk assessment, and review of the piece using the model took place during the discussion. This led to a small concern about the rear leg being used to slide along, dismissible if the width of section was @ 190mm. insurance value was discussed and other matters. A revised design was evidently needed to address the concern that it may be possible to slide down the rear leg.

I consulted some sculptor friends, and other public artists including George Wagstaff , who suggested putting points along it (as is now done to stop skate boarders in Coventry) However after some reflection going back to the initial drawings I realised I only need rotate the rear leg by 45 degrees to put a corner on the top edge, thus preventing any sliding down, and making climbing difficult.  I met at the X cell with Maggs & a new Borough Surveyor, and steel model I stated my proposal and we discussed it, it was accepted and a revised model was agreed to be made. There was no doubt that the new curves for the rotated top surface would be complex.  To make things more difficult I had a preference for following the entire process from freehand drawing, and did not want to produce the adaption using a geometrical template to exactly calculate the turns, but made these from the process of constructing the model, recording carefully the shapes whilst going along in the making process. This led to a gesso model @ 300mm high with a circular base. The photos of this were in elevation plan and side, and 3-D it was approved and the project moved forward.

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300 mm high steel model prototype —— › amended design 300mm high gesso model/Approved

Working from sheet metal I was conscious of the limitations of the material so rather than presenting a 300 mm high model for fabrication to Julian at yolk design I decided to make a lager 1m high model using 2 mm MDF  and thin ply to test the curvature properties of sheet metal by analogy. An idea suggested by Colin Davies from Rugby the structural engineer who I had consulted to test my fabrication ideas with and who advised on the method of securing the piece to the ground, designing the base plates, bolts and foundations, discussing and agreeing the inner structure to take the loadings.  A third process had emerged:   
Amended design 300mm high gesso model/approved —— › larger 1m high model in this sheet mdf

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Back in the Ledsam workshop, Birmingham I drew out the shapes for the side sections and cut these out with a jigsaw cutter from plain sheet MDF 2/3mm. The sheet material for the rear leg piece needed to flex in 3 directions, and could be difficult to work. I had seen a coracle made by using steam to bend the wood frame. So using a wall paper steamer I was able to give the wood sheet material sufficient flexion to make the amended shapes for the rear leg piece. Keeping track of which new leg curves were the right ones as it had taken three attempts to obtain the right set of curves, where all the edges met up with no gaps. This 3-D curve was difficult to work out other than by drawing & making.

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The 1 metre high model

Once the 1m model was made I posted photos to the Council and Maggs, and took the model to Julian at Yolk Design near Huntingdon to fabricate the piece at his metal work workshop.  Whilst I had the outline drawing for all the complex curves and piece, I was by no means certain that in scaling these up by x 2.5 + they would be accurate enough. A gap of 1 or 2mm might disappear but if 3 or 4 mm it could ruin the shape. This would only need to be .75 or 1 mm on the 1 m model. Discussing this with Julian who was working with me to fabricate the piece, I decided it was necessary to make a full scale model of the rear leg using 3mm MDF so that any errors could be corrected before going ahead with  cutting the costly stainless steel sheet metal, these would be costly to remake.

A fourth process:

› Larger 1m high model in this sheet mdf —— › Full size model in MDF accurate test of curves

I scaled up my 1m drawings to full size and drew these onto paper copying these onto the MDF sheets by using blue carbon paper under the drawings to make blue line drawings on the boards. Then I followed these outlines to cut around the shapes with a jigsaw cutter.  Making square frames using 25 x 25 mm wood laths sized to fit inside the square section sculpture parts I assembled the flat sections into 3- D pieces, gluing and stapling together. The front leg piece and arch to were made fairly easily. To test the rear leg sections the piece needed standing upright as in situ mode and the rear leg top attached to the lower arch  and the base to the ground. With a shortage of height in the workshop at Julian’s we decided to use the main hall to assemble the pieces. This worked out well with plenty of space to test sight lines and correct any discrepancies in the description of the lines. Using coloured tape to fix new adjustments to the lines on the full scale model.

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Measuring these from known points on the full scale model enabled the corrections to be applied to my drawings I had copied onto CAD, where I had enlarged these x 2.5@ from the 1 m model. Using fixed points on the full scale model that were also on my CAD drawings enabled corrections to the curves. There is also the condition of perspective and scale to consider.

Another process:

Full size model MDF curves adjusted —— › full size metal cutting templates and metal pieces.

I had initially found stainless suppliers in Birmingham  but looking nationally for a workshop that could cut larger than 2.5 m length I was directed to Watson & Brookman engineers of Chawston nr Bedford. Who are experts in working with the metal, fortunately they were very kind enough to offer to give Julian training in stainless welding, showing how to work the temperature, fame and flow of weld.  
I am tempted to get on and do welding too but in all I felt it better to keep some distance and clarity of roles in the fabrication process, it was Julian’s workshop and he more normally did welding. So this is how it shaped up. W & B supplied the metal cut to my drawing templates; this was delivered in flat sheets to Julian’s workshop nr Huntingdon, where we assembled the parts together to form the 3-D sections, working along each section tacking the corners and then Julian welding along these four edges all around the pieces. I then ground down the rough weld to form shape the radius curves, sculpting along the edges, the polishing up to mirror finish.

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Metal prices had shot up since the start of the commission, the initial plan was burnished metal with some mirror finish at the top but as I worked the piece I soon realised it needed to get much closer to mirror finish all around, lifting the quality up quite to the best. All this took some time the stainless was mill finish known as 2B – as it rolls out of the foundry. So a basic flat finish. Getting the surface down and polishing up to mirror was fairly time consuming but wholly worth it as this gave a truly sculptural feel to working the piece, knowing this had been derived directly from the original inspiration.

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I prepared a workshop and process flow chart to plan the timing, cost, materials and days assembling and welding as a guide to our working together, and gave a copy to Julian to discuss; this more or less was the way the project went forward. Except that W & B welded the side loop and spiral with me as Julian went abroad for a while, and the delivery was put on hold while readying for the London Olympics in 2012.

Colin Davies (Rugby) http://www.colin-davies.co.uk/ advised me on any structural issues and certificated the structural integrity as required by Elmbridge Borough Council.

About Mark Stammers

Is a Visual & Fine Artist making abstract Sculpture & Painting, public art and commissions.
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