The Short Version: Artist Kelly Borsheim is a determined, practical optimist. When she left her home and studio in central Texas several years ago to study classical painting techniques in Italy, she created many handmade wax sculptures of her designs. She intended to cast these into bronze upon her return.
However, she is losing her storage space this summer and wax does not travel well. It is time for her to return to Texas and cast those waxes into bronze sculptures. This is your opportunity to partner in this ancient artistic process and own a piece of original bronze sculpture.
PS. That image collage at the top features from left to right, we sculptor instructors at the Elisabet Ney Sculpture Conservatory in Austin, Texas, Marla Ripperda, Bill Barnett, and Kelly Borsheim pour molten bronze from the crucible in 2002. Nice chaps, eh?
During my first year of taking the plunge to become a full-time artist, something terrible happened in the world. And people stopped buying art. I found myself exhibiting in a church one weekend that fall. I had spent all of my savings casting bronze sculptures and investing in my new career. No one sold anything at that show and I was quite depressed about what seemed a bleak future post 9/11.
Earlier that year, I had met veteran artist Warren Cullar after he gave an art marketing lecture in his studio to members of the Austin Visual Arts Association. At this church show, Warren listened to my woes as we each packed up our vehicles. Outside in the parking lot, he asked me to help him lift a small table up into his van. Sure, it was not difficult at all! Afterwards, he put some paper in my hand, told me to put it in my pocket and not look at it until I got home, and then he said, “Go make something that sells.”
Confused, I did what I was told and we each finished packing. I had been so down about something so out of my control that I forgot about the paper until almost midnight that night. I was stunned. Into silence. He really touched me. In my pocket were TWO one-hundred dollar bills!
Kickstarter patrons are probably familiar with the eternal gratitude of recipient artists. This type of generosity was new to me: An almost perfect stranger had not only given me the physical means to accomplish a part of my vision, but his belief that I could do it was uplifting as well.
“Make something that sells.” I had no idea what he meant. What sort of bronze could I create with $200 that would turn things around? In the meantime, I had proposed an exhibition with the City of Austin’s gallery entitled, “From Paper to Bronze: Sculptors Who Draw.” Having been accepted, I began by sorting through a pile of my favorite life drawings and returned to one that I had done in 1994. It was just a one-minute gesture sketch, but I had always loved it. It had taken me years after that drawing to study more anatomy and sculpture. In 2000, I had learned how to compress form to create bas-relief sculpture. [The raised image on a coin is a good example of bas-relief.] Thus, things had come together and I had developed an idea. I spent three days sculpting a bas-relief in clay using my drawing as inspiration. My new artwork was titled, “Ten.”
In early 2002, I signed up for another bronze casting class. I had several years experience doing this work. By doing all of the work myself, the money from Warren went further. I cast into bronze the first two in my new limited edition sculpture “Ten.” My angel patron Warren received one when I next saw him at an art show in Austin, Texas. The other “Ten” sold from my booth at the same event. “Ten” became my best selling bronze and got me through some rough economic times. She was also my first sale outside of the US (to a collector in the UK who wanted a gift for his wife).
Many years ago, I began to study classical painting techniques in Florence, Italy. I could not allow my art business to falter while I was abroad, and I like to be hands-on. I created many foundry-ready waxes in the event that the bronzes I had in stock ran out.
I still have some wax figures in Texas that need to be cast into bronze, but I am losing my storage space there and wax does not travel well. I will be returning to Texas after I finish my current projects in Italy. Bronze foundry work generally takes two to three months, but the results yield such strong and beautiful art that it is worth all of the effort. Each bronze in an edition is considered to be an original work of art because each one takes so much individual labor-intensive work.
The Lost Wax Bronze Casting Process - Sculpture
Casting bronze is not at all like carving stone. We all understand how stone sculpture is created: the artist cuts away rock. He has one chance at it. Whatever is left is what you see as the art. Not so with a bronze sculpture. While each artist and each foundry (the place where bronze casting is done) works in a different way, most use the “Lost Wax Method” of bronze casting. It takes artists years to fully understand the process and challenges of casting molten bronze. I will try to sum it up in simple terms here.
First, an artist creates a sculpture in whatever material she likes: wax, clay, plaster, newsprint, wood, stone, paper-mâché, etc.
Second, a mold is made of the original art. This may be a one-part mold or a two-part mold depending on the complexity of the art. A two-part mold [the norm] consists of an inner mold of soft flexible rubber and an outer mold that is rigid. The rubber mold wraps around the unusual shapes of the art and is flexible enough to be peeled away from the art or castings. The outer mold is made of a hard, non-flexible material (such as plaster or fiberglass) that supports the inner mold to prevent any distortion when hot wax is later poured into the mold. Each work of art creates different considerations in the design of the mold. The moldmaker must understand the entire process in order to make a quality mold that can withstand many castings.
Once it is ready, cleaned, and prepped (and the original artwork is no longer inside of it), wax is melted and poured into this empty mold. A copy of the original sculpture is made. This may be of solid or hollow wax, depending on the size and shapes of the sculpture. There is skill involved in doing this step as well. One must consider that varying thicknesses of cooling metal shrink at different rates. Larger sculptures are cast hollow, with a goal of creating a consistent thickness in the wax in order to minimize shrinkage issues later.
The original art is now in wax. This wax may be cut up into smaller parts. How small depends on the size of the crucible, which is the container that holds the molten bronze.
The wax sculpture is then “welded” with wax to a wax funnel, wax feed lines, and wax vents (escape lines). We always called this entire contraption a “sprue.” A lot of thought goes into how this sprue is designed, as one considers gravity and how liquid fills a hollow space. One must avoid creating air pockets where a liquid cannot flow or the bronze sculpture will be missing parts. Each sprue is different for each art work or combination of small artworks on a sprue.
Once this sprue is finished satisfactorily, a new mold of the entire thing is created. Usually this is made of a ceramic shell. Over the course of a week or so, the sprue is dipped multiple times into a ceramic shell slurry. Each layer must thoroughly dry before the sprue can be dipped into the next thickening layer. This [investment] mold must be strong enough to withstand the heat and force of flowing molten bronze!
When thick and dry enough, this mold is then fired, similar to regular ceramics. In the process of this firing, all of the wax is melted out, hence the term “The Lost Wax Process.” The sculpture and all of the feed and vent lines are now just one connected hollow space. If this mold is dropped or damaged, the artist or foundry must return to the original mold and start anew.
On bronze casting day, this ceramic shell mold gets heated up in an oven while the bronze ingots are being melted inside a crucible in a furnace. The bronze is heated to about 2000 °F in order to become liquid long enough for the pouring process. The mold is also heated so that its temperature does not “shock” the molten bronze when the mold and bronze meet.
The mold is removed from the oven and placed funnel-side up into a sandbox. The gorgeous orange liquid metal is then poured carefully into the funnel. The metal travels down this funnel and through the feed lines, fills the sculpture, and chases air out through the vents. Several people work together during this process for safety, strength, and accuracy.
As the metal begins to solidify once more, the mold is removed from the sand to cool further. After the bronze has fully hardened, the mold is hammered away and thus, destroyed.
Everything that was wax is now bronze. The sculpture must be cut out of this bronze sprue and re-carved or cleaned up (chased) at each connection point of sculpture and feed or vent lines. If the sculpture was large and cast in parts, these parts will be welded together before chasing.
Once all of the metalwork is finished, the bronze sculpture is thoroughly cleaned, usually by blasting with tiny glass beads (sand is too coarse and would damage fine detail). This removes any last traces of ceramic shell mold, as well as the oils from human hands. A patina (or colored chemical finish) is then applied, usually with the aid of a torch. In addition, all of my bronzes have added layers of wax, or more often, a product called Incralac. They protect the patina of the new sculpture, allowing one to touch and enjoy.
Each bronze sculpture created by the lost wax casting process is considered to be an original work of art because each one takes so much work unique to the piece.
Reward Levels $100-$200 or above. Metal prints: Your choice of two gets printed directly onto a sheet of 1/16" thick aluminum. The aluminum sheet is offset from the wall by a 3/4" thick wooden frame which is attached to the back. The wooden frame includes a hanging wire for easy mounting on your wall (see photos above). All metal prints will arrive "ready to hang" with mounting hooks and nails. Metal prints are extremely durable. They're lightweight. They won't bend, and they're water resistant. The high gloss of the aluminum sheet complements the rich colors of any image to produce stunning results.
The BRONZE Rewards:
Small Bronze Sitting Frog Sculpture [new Reward 9 March]
Chest Piece:7" h x 5" w x 1.75" d; male chest
Rehearsal:12" h x 8.5" w x 1”; standing female figure (dancer) in bas-relief
Ten:Approximately 11" x 5" x 1”; female figure in bas relief
Valentine:Approximately 9" x 5" x 2”; male torso in high relief (3-d on wall)
Medallion, you help design in consult; approximate 3 x 3 inches [New Reward added 9 March]
Seer:11" x 4" x 3"; male torso [unique bronze; no first mold made]
Dancer:Approx 16" H x 5" W x 3.5" D; female torso high relief (3-d on wall)
“Oh Boy!” bronze mirror:14.5" h x 9.5" w x 1”; five male figures in bas-relief
Cattails and Frog Legs:19" h x 7" w x 6" d; two frogs, lily pad and cattails
The Unwritten Future:19" h x 7" w x 6" d; two men, lily pad and cattails
Eric: 10" h x 11" w x 8" d, bronze with granite base
Warrior Spirit:21" h x 10" w x 7" d; man with bird of prey; includes wood base
The Little Mermaid:24.5" h x 14" w x 9.5" d; dancing (nude) female figure; granite base
The Lookout:30" h x 15" w x 5" d; female figure with cloth (green patina, unique bronze)
Shield:30" h x 22" w x 6" d; wall-hanging male chest (larger than life)
Ten (large):45" h x 19" w x 2.25" d; female figure in bas-relief
Reginald:34" H x 12" x 13"; standing male (nude) figure
Gemini:41" h x 15" x 12"; abstracted female figure (two faces); granite base
Risks and challenges
With a successful funding campaign, the risk of completing the project is extremely low. Not only have I already created the initial molds and the wax sculptures, I am the original artist for the works shown here. I can create everything anew, if need be, or repair anything that needs attention. I have good relationships with four bronze casting foundries, people that I have known for years and respect the work they all do.
While Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing funding system, I have put my budget on the lower end since it is possible for me to cast some sculptures instead of all. I am losing my storage space and casting these wax figures is better than losing all of my work. However, I really want to see this work come alive… each one. That is what I am hoping you will want to be a part of.
Thank you. And please share this Kickstarter project with your friends or anyone you think would enjoy helping me “lose some wax” and share some bronze art!
- (32 days)