January 10: 03F-1
"Well, I guess we showed him who's boss."
"You know, you really stink at times."
"What? Just because I keep this guy from getting cocky you think I'm overbearing?"
"Yes. Do you pay any attention to what he's doing?"
"Yah. He goes out there. Teases the tide, calculates it to an inch, and gets away with it. Then he does things to sand that no one else can do. What's that, if not arrogance?"
"How about the fact that sometimes they do fall over? And what about the people who respect his work and enjoy seeing it? He's rather undemanding about this, you know. I've heard him say 'It is, after all, just sand.' Doesn't he have some grounds for pride?"
"No, pride. There's a difference. Quit looking at the surface. Go deeper. Do what he does: try harder."
We last left our hero standing on the beach, staring at those design wildcats that had just thrashed him soundly. What seemed simple had shed that seeming. Where to now?
Who knows where ideas come from? The multiple sculpture idea came in, seemed like a god one, and the first few were pretty good. Then things went awry; the harder I tried the worse the sculptures got.
I certainly don't know. Seems like I know less now than I did in August. I'm tired of wrestling. Tuck that tail, lick the wounds, do what you need but go to the beach and make a sculpture. You're only a quitter if you quit.
Build number: 03F-1 (lifetime start #263) filtered native sand, on elongated sloping riser base and borrow pit
Date: January 10 (Friday)
Location: Venice Breakwater, on the flat
Start: 0800; construction time approx 8 hours
Height: 3.5 feet (Latchform); riser height about 10 inches
Base: 1.75 feet nominal diameter
Photo digital: 67 images, Canon Powershot G2 (includes those shot by Rich)
Photo 35mm: approx 15 exposures on Fuji Acros 100 (EI80) w/LX and 28-135 zoom
Photo 6X7: none
Photo volunteer: Construction and complete, Rich w/Canon Z115 and my G2
Video motion: none (camcorder not brought)
Video still: none
Video volunteer: none
New Equipment: none (second test for Cercoscreenus)
First I had to reassemble the Cercoscreenus, this year's prizewinner for Most Disappointing Tool. I'd planned to cut some holes in the sidewall to solve the sand anchor problem, but the details involved in the job dissuaded me. So, I had in mind another test. If it won't work when I shovel sand into it while it's in the form, maybe it will work if i fill it outside the form and dip it. It being about 0640 I kept the Toolworks noise to a minimum. The man with the two little dogs came by and said that the SMPD officer was looking for me. I told him I wasn't there when it happened.
Well, when the beach hands you lemonade, add sugar. I site the sculpture where the sand is least bad and go to work. A single sculpture. One only. Keep it simple. Maybe I'll shed less blood that way when the design tigers visit.
The first few loads go through the Quick Filter, already accorded "Old Reliable" status. As I use it I watch how the screen, sand and water interact. Yah, I just missed it. There's a lot of action through the sides. This is what I get for solving a problem so thoroughly that it requires no more thought, until a new solution based on that experience fails miserably and teaches me that my observation of the earlier tool had missed a few things.
Then it's time for the Cercoscreenus' second coming. I load some sand into it, pick the awkwardly big thing up and lower it into the water. The sand does come out but it's more of a struggle than with its supposedly primitive predecessor. Tamping reveals another unanticipated result in that the sand feels very soft until I've hammered it more than usual. The same happens for two more test loads. Point proven. Forget it.
Some quick thinking produces a new theory: turbulence. This is a bad thing on the beach but seems to be a good thing in the form. It seems to help the sand settle so that it doesn't need so much tamping. Corners produce turbulence as the screen is rotated. The Cercoscreenus has another flaw. Add them up and the load is fatal. Put the thing in the Museum of Failed Sand Sculpture Tools and go on. Corners are helpful.
Well, I have another set of corners, wrapped in fine screen. The original box filter is here because I thought I might find good sand; I've never used it with the coarser high-tide sand because I thought it would just plug up. Well, having been proven wrong about several other items, I might as well test this thought. I load it up and plop it in. Well, look at that. Not really any more effort than with fine sand,. and the finer screen catches those annoying strands of sea grass. I fill the form with fine-screened sand, finishing it off with the Quick Filter because it's better in shallow water. It'll be interesting to find out how all of this affected the packing.
3. Design and Consequences
No matter how well packed, it's still coarse sand and engineering conservatism is a good idea. Maybe I should send this to Dennis Prager, who is a fan of conservatives. No, instead, I'll just taper the column. And how about making the top completely open? A dome puts sideward load on its supports, which is how Unit C of 02M-12 failed.
So, it needs a big opening to get the sand out from the top. Digging down is for ditch diggers who have the equipment. I shape the east side to a moderate overhang and then tunnel inward using a combination of Bigger Loop and Steel Finger. The latter tool was originally designed for this kind of work but was made so badly that it didn't work. The blade was too flexible and couldn't take the stress of digging into packed sand. A rebuilding gave it the needed rigidity but increased its weight to the point where it still didn't work. I rebuilt it again last year with a much better handle and more intelligently designed support so that now it comes close to that original concept. It's still too weak at the tip for hard digging but as long as I take small bites it will hold up, and its effectiveness in this kind of digging makes it irresistible. I used to use the Loop Tool for this task but it's not so good at reaching upward into small spaces.
"Hi, Bj. It's nice to see you here."
"I walk every day. Today I decided to walk on the beach."
She walks with pride and interest, erect, looking forward. "I'm glad you'll be going to the Directors' Guild presentation tomorrow."
"Thank you for the invitation. I wouldn't miss it. One thing Bob and I were starting to talk about was movies and I wanted to learn more about how they're made, how good ones get made."
"I'll talk to Ken and see if he can answer some of your questions."
There's no doubt about it. Movies are fascinating. The occasional one is purely magic, transporting me to some other world.
"Bob was interested in quality. I was wondering how he managed that in an industry that just seems to want easy money."
"There are good movies out now. 'Chicago' is good. 'Gangs of New York' is hard to watch, but the performances are excellent. It's a true story about the immigrant gangs. Irish, trying to make a place for themselves among the other gangs."
Ah, I wish I could have expressed myself more coherently. Brain suddenly called upon to converse while still thinking about the sculpture I split the exit and end up in the weeds wondering why I sound like such an idiot.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Larry."
"Bye." She walks away south, following the wet line of the slowly retreating tide.
I return to the central task: removing the heart of a block of sand. Once I break through to the top the rest is fairly simple excavation. I leave a curving floor about a third of the way down the pile; this will serve to tie the walls to each other.
On the north I start the series of narrow openings bounded by thin sections of sand that are the basis for this sculpture. One space leads to the next, all the way to the bottom, and I tie them across with subtle lines and surface cuts.
Farther around on the west the spaces become bigger. I dig out under the curved surface and then go sideways.
It's a good pile. Consistent, except for one layer near the top that is harder than the rest. I wonder what's different about that. Is that where I made thinner additions? The sand even holds sharp edges if I don't bang into them with a tool. Oh, the wonders of technology.
Simplicity. One pile, one sculpture, one man. The planet turns, shadows change. There's time to think, to look, to watch the surfers and their moving art played out on the even more beautiful energetic water. Time for craftsmanship, time for expression. The experience of the multiple leads to appreciation of the single.
After considering the south aspect I make some shaped cuts, remembering to leave some sand at the top as counterpoise to the overhang. That pretty well settles the outward design but there's internal work to do.
"Hi, Rich. You're in luck. I have cookies and blister peanuts!"
"Great. I have little cookies."
"That must mean you want only small holes."
"As long as they're not circular."
"Your Prime Directive is still working."
"Nothing in the sculpture I recognize. Wait a minute! There's a 6 right here!"
"Oh, rats, you're right. Well it's too late to change it." Although I try later on and manage to reduce the resemblance somewhat.
"And there's a K over here. K-6? Must be a really, really tall mountain."
"Or a puppy?" Rich has quite an imagination. "Actually, the Prime Directive is to make each sculpture better than the last."
"I know that. But you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story."
Not far offshore a pelican dives in, hopeful of fish. Surfers are more successful, still getting those long graceful rides. The day has continued cool with a slow shifty breeze under varied overcast. Rain was predicted but never showed for all the cloud cover; it's unlikely we'll get any sunset light so I don't consider that in the sculpture's carving.
"One more hole. I have an entry. Where will it come out?" Painfully I crawl around the sculpture. I wish someone could take my back apart and rebuild it as they have my bicycle. "Here we go. Perfect."
"Yah. It's low, but centered."
"Right. As long as I don't make it too big." Shape counts for more than size, and I tunnel through halfway from each side and meet with a small error that becomes part of the design. The Steel Finger is finally doing what it was originally designed for as I learn how to use it.
4. Accuracy of Vision
"Well, that's about it for design."
"You're finished early. It's only a little after two."
"I have lots of clean-up to do. And base work after that. Probably be finished by 3:00."
No matter how carefully the carving is done the sculpture still needs detail work. With a multiple this is nearly impossible. Now I have lots of time to consider each detail and change things in minor ways to make the parts flow and balance.
A detail doesn't work. I want to bring an internal edge back to the outside but it just doesn't look right. Looking at it again I get another idea. Curve it downward to match the step on the other side of the space. Ah, yes, that's it. The gift of time and simplicity.
Further refinement helps the interior, which no one will see unless they're tall. I shape the edges of spaces to go along with the outside, and then brush away the loose sand. Tiger stripes come out of the strongly colored sand.
Craftsmanship. Make it right. Make it look intended. Don't quit until it looks the way you want it to, but quit before you do too much. It's an interesting balance, especially in a pile made of sand I wouldn't have thought capable of any of this.
5. Basic Considerations
Space links the sculpture with its environment. Placement within that space is part of the design. Given the decision to make something rather than nothing, the maker might as well do as splashy a job as possible. Don't just put the sculpture on the sand. Make it dominate the space.
Here there are no distractions. One sculpture. Part of the beach, but a special part. Lift it. Build a soft boundary to the sacred space of creation. This is something special.
The problem is fatigue. By the time I've spent nearly eight hours making the sculpture itself there isn't much left over for base design. I shape the tall base to a sloping headland but the flat area around the sculpture is ugly. I go back and rework parts of this to make it slope more smoothly and this helps. A dramatic cut also helps. Shape it. Make it more than just a mound to raise the sculpture. Design it.
6. Imaging Imagination
"Clean off your hands and I'll give you your camera back."
"OK. Let me have some peanuts first. The peanuts, by the way, were a good idea. Thank you, Anna. If I'd remembered the Zone bars I'd have been quite well fed, but cookies will just have to stand in for them."
By this time I've dried my hands and picked up the camera.
I start with the black-and-white film. Lighting is perfect for this, sunlight attenuated by high clouds and low vapor. Sculptor's Palsy makes me wish for a faster lens; the zoom is versatile but at F/4 I'm unable to get the fast shutter speed I prefer.
A man walks around with something in his hand.
"Is that a camera, Rich?"
"I guess so."
Finally I have to ask the man himself.
"It's for Email. Quick and easy, but it only holds 20 shots."
"Then you copy to the computer?"
"Where did you get it?"
"Big Lots. $25."
"Amazing. There's one of those stores nearby. I'll have to take a look." And I did, the next day. You get only 352X288 pixels. Not enough, even at only $25.
I shoot around with my own digital. Sculptor's Palsy isn't so much of a problem with this lightweight camera.
"Well, that's it. It's getting cold out here."
"Yah. I'm thinking of taking off in a little bit."
"So am I. Looks like we're not going to get any sunset light to hang around for."
I pack up and we haul the loads to my bike, where I reunite everything on the trailer. The Cercoscreenus goes on top.
"Say good-bye to the Cercoscreenus, Rich. It'll be retired."
"OK May its replacement do better."
"Good night. Thanks for your help."
"You're welcome. Fare you well."
I pull out. Tired. The trip is slow. Low puffs of cloud blow slowly overhead through the grey light.
We were wrong about the sunset. Later on I look out the window and see gentle orange light on those low clouds. Well, I should have stayed, but there are limits.
"Well, put it on the shelf."
"Here? Next to this flat screen?"
I reach up and put the Cercoscreenus on the top shelf. Sand drops off of it and the cats bumping my legs run for shelter, from which they give me betrayed looks.
There are other dusty tools up here. A set of ceramic fingertips. A wooden frame holding fiberglass window screen. A few other blades and scrapers of plastic. Their story is told by the dust. Designed, made, tested and failed.
"It didn't even work when I loaded it outside of the form and then dipped it in. Interesting. Turns out corners might be important because they get the water moving, and that moving water seems to help settle the sand."
"So we add that failure to the flat bottom, wide ring and lack of side screen. Yah, the shelf is where it belongs. Not worth rebuilding, but worth remembering. We stand there as the cats come out. Failure and memory equal learning.
"Well, I believe he got you. Dirty tricks and all."
"Oh, now you're trying to blame me for the surf?"
"No, but you certainly were enjoying the look on his face as he searched for sand. I could see it. 'Serves him right,' you thought."
"Oh, go away."
"OK, Mr. Lemon Salesman. You going to take away the sugar next time? Quit reading about those Greek gods. Their time is done. Try becoming helpful."
"Will you settle for neutral?"
"That's a start. I wonder what he'll do next."
Wildcat faces fade into the overcast. One looks pleased. The other looks challenged. The story clearly isn't over yet.
Written January 11, 12
Editing for coherence, and reformatted, 2013 December 11
Toolmaker story #9, sequel to Cercoscreenus (03M-1)
Carving photography by Richard Johnson