A five or six month hiatus can move by pretty quickly. I tend to have three or four projects going on at the same time. The summer months, as hot as they are, can be the perfect time to focus on some of these other projects.
Trapped inside a heavily air conditioned apartment, I focused on producing my fifth album, Three Sides of the Same Coin. With the summer sunshine in abundance, I set off to non desert locales to find more In A Place scenes. IAP benefitted twice that summer since I was also focusing heavily on the layout of the art book. Sherry Wisener joined the IAP project as the book’s editor. By the time the fall colors started to arrive, In A Place: An Art Book was finished.
During the summer months, four of the five ODK hammers were packed away in a foam lined cardboard box. I kept one out so that I could figure out a method of displaying the final sculptures. The finished hammer was sturdy, and I thought two stands would look nice supporting each sculpture.
Enter Barrett Hoffman.
Barrett and his wife Rhea are close family friends of ours. Barrett is a skilled and inventive metal worker. Barrett also has an avid interest in my creativity. So it didn’t take any convincing when asked if he would like to help with the project. He had me draw up a few sketches of what I wanted, and about a week later he had crafted some solid yet aesthetically appropriate metal stands for the hammers.
It was great to finally display a finished ODK Hammer on the book shelf. However, when I was setting the sculpture on the stands, I discovered something that made heart break. A tiny hairline fracture had formed near the seam where the lower handle joined with the neck bone. I carefully applied pressure to see if the hammer was loose at the joint, but nothing budged. As I examined the sculpture further, I found two more fractures. I had no clue as to what would cause the cracks to form. Concerned, I went to check on the other four hammers that were packed away. Yup, all five hammers were damaged.
My initial assumption was that when the pre-baked core went through the cooking process a second time, the shape must have warped. This could explain why the surface layer would develop the fractures. I thought that the sculpture needed a stronger core solution, something that wouldn’t allow the clay to warp during the baking process.
Using a metal core, a length of rebar perhaps, should be strong enough. I again turned to Barrett for help. He cut and shaped several pieces of rebar based on a template I drew of the overall profile of the hammer. I built up the core layers of the sculpture over the top of the rebar. After baking this core, I then applied the detail layer, just as I did before. With the rebar serving as the new core of the sculpture, the new hammers were absolutely sturdy. The added benefit was that I no longer needed to caution people how fragile the sculptures were.
Yet, after a week, the fractures started to appear again.
I put the ODK Hammer project on hold for several months. I needed a break, and Calista and I were gearing up to launch the In A Place Kickstarter campaign. It felt good to focus all my attention on the Kickstarter page. I was excited to put my work out there for a larger audience to see. However, once the clock started ticking down on the campaign, I needed a distraction to keep me from obsessing over whether or not the funding of In A Place: An Art Book would succeed. (spoiler alert: it didn’t succeed)
One night, not long after the Kickstarter ended, Calista and I had invited our friends Emily and Jonathan over to see the new house. As we toured them around, we spent some time discussing the ODK Hammers, three of the hammers were on display over the fireplace mantel. Emily and Jonathan both have significant backgrounds in science. Jonathan knew immediately what was causing the fractures in the sculptures.
Put your science caps on, friends. This is about to get real.
The cause of the fractures had to do with the coefficient of linear thermal contraction. Those of you who guessed this earlier in this blog entry get a gold star. To put it simply, I was cooling the clay too fast. Jonathan read an article describing the importance of creating a cooling schedule when baking ceramic products multiple times. The consequences of not developing such a schedule would cause the clay products to fracture, just like my hammers.
Armed with knowledge, I came up with a strategy that would bring the temperature of the sculptures down gradually, about twenty-four hours longer than I had previously been cooling down the sculptures.
The next hammer I created didn’t have, nor does it have any hairline fractures at all. It even survived being shipped from Palm Desert to San Francisco without any damage.
Throughout the entire process, the look of the ODK Hammer has been constantly refined. The current iteration will likely be the definitive design. Slight variations such as skin tonality, hammer length, unique details of the antler-claw and even small hair follicles will remain. However, the overall profile won’t vary too much. This is due to the design of the conceptual skeletal system that I developed to make the ODK Hammer seem even more organic. More on that in part 3.