Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Evolution of a Paper Sculpture

My current primary paper-sculpture-in-progress (working title: Koi's World) has had a long, rather strange development process.  I feel as if I'm solving a mystery as I go.
Here are major pieces of the developing artwork,
tentatively titled Koi's World.

I'm not sure if you can tell from the assemblage of paper sculpture pieces at right, but the idea is to show a view of the fish in its underwater fishpond environment.

The first part of this artwork's development, however, didn't seem to have anything to do with koi, or lily pads, or even ponds.  Back in 2009, I was just looking for a way to make a curving stem structure.

My 2009 "twisty stems"
You may not have thought about this, but making anything but an extremely straight, ramrod-like structure from a rolled piece of paper is a real challenge.  When I figured out how to make segments that could be assembled into "twisty stems," that was a breakthrough.  I spent a while grooving out on my sinuous structures, but no good idea for a finished piece of art seemed to develop from this.

Finally, in the fall of 2010 I picked up one segment of "twisty stem," looked at it from a new angle, and asked a friend in my Art Group, "Don't you think this kind of looks like the head of a koi?"  I've been a fan of koi (a kind of large, colorful Japanese carp related to goldfish) for years.

My assembled paper-sculpture koi
My friend stared at the paper segment for a few moments, clearly wanting to be supportive, but honest.  "No," she finally admitted.

"It just needs some development," I said.  I'll show you what I mean."  And I proceeded, by trial and error, to figure out how to make not just the head, but the whole fish.

Some of my koi reference photos in my sketchbook
In a couple of months I had a finished fish, and I also had assembled a large collection of resource images of koi, which I turned into montages with Adobe Illustrator.  I printed them out, and put them into my sketchbook, so I could refer to them for details wherever I was working.

May I just say right here that I dearly love the Internet, and especially Google Image Search, for this capability?  Back in early days, I had a physical reference image library that filled many file drawers.

I was always cutting up magazines or newspapers, and categorizing the images in manila file folders.  The result was a large, heavy, messy collection of images that were never quite from the right angle, never quite captured the exact right thing, and often weren't in color.  Moreover, the act of collecting and categorizing them was laborious and tedious.

Did I mention I love the Internet?  Oh, how dearly I love the Internet!

So at last I had my koi--but he needed a home.  Whenever I showed him to people, they said they liked him, but inevitably would ask, "what are you going to do with him?"

"Travis S." posted a photostream on Flickr that gave me my
final key to the Koi's World.  Here is one of several
sketchbook spreads I made from his underwater lily pads.
Good question!  I did research on fish ponds and lily pads, but mostly from the human point of view.  Nothing seemed to work just right, as I visualized it in my head.  Then early one morning before I was totally awake I had a flash of what it might look like from the koi's point of view.  It "felt right" immediately.

But I'm about accuracy, as well as fantasy (no, that is not a contradiction).  I want it to look right, even if it's utterly imaginary.

I'd never been underwater in a koi pond, nor did I have much opportunity to do so, in December in Kansas.  What would it actually look like, down there?  How do lily pads look from below?  What color(s) are they?  What do the stems and roots look like, and how do they grow?  I could guess . . . or I could go back to Google Image Search (not a hard choice!).

I can't express how excited I was to find a perfect--absolutely, utterly perfect!--resource in the wonderful photostream of "Travis S." on Flickr.  If you'd like to read about his adventures in photographing lily pads from below, read the 8/29/2005 entry "Montlake," on his Chicken Porn blog.

The quest for the completion of this opus continues, however.  Now I'm puzzling through how to make the "lily pad" structures, portray the pond's banks from underwater, and figure out not only what "up" looks like from this viewpoint, but how to show it convincingly in paper sculpture.

The mystery reveals itself at its own pace, not mine.  I'm definitely making progress, but at the rate I'm going you probably shouldn't hold your breath till you see the end result of this underwater view.

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