Innovative Wire Sculpture Workshop : Part 2
Innovative Wire Sculpture Workshop
Part 2: Getting Started with Wire
Wire Sculptor Elizabeth Berrien inside a 13ft wire sculpture work in progress for science fiction author Larry Niven. The wire sculptor makes any different kinds of wire sculptures for home and garden. Small wire sculptures make excellent gifts. You can buy complex and expressive museum quality wire animals from Elizabeth Berrien. You can also learn to make wire sculptures of your own.
I learned the process of innovation in 1968, from the late Kenneth G. Curran. Using Mr. Curran's method, I invented my own innovative approach to wire sculpture and achieved museum quality standards. Ken Curran was wry, sardonic, thoughtful and minimalist. He was an astute mentor. He gave enough information to get me experimenting, but insisted that I learn how to learn, developing a lifelong habit of creative problem solving. The two major elements to be aware of in wire sculpture are design and structure. Design is the form and impact of the wire sculpture; what it looks like. Structure is the degree to which it holds together.
Design In Wire Sculpture
Wire is a mobile inkline. Instead of drawing with a pen, you draw with the wire itself. There are no rules whatsoever, no right way to create with wire. Think of all the different ways artists have expressed themselves with a paintbrush. Then think again...
This is all you need to make a wire sculpture, wire and some cutters.
Even "pipe cleaners" are fair game for making wire sculpture.
Since wire sculpture is such an unpopulated medium, there's infinite room to make your mark by coming up with a distinctively different approach. Don't jump on the bandwagon by imitating the works of Alexander Calder. This great innovator, who introduced contemporary wire sculpture to the world, stands alone. You should too. Don't be a Calder Clone. Honor wire sculpture, and honor the spirit of Alexander Calder, by working as independently as possible. It's easier than you think, and truly rewarding.
Adopt a zen approach to starting out with wire. Enjoy it for its own sake, be receptive to the different effects possible. Don't worry about style. If you get hooked and really work at it over time, the very personal ways you've developed to make the wire work will manifest as something intangible, special and unique to yourself. Style will emerge as a by-product of technique.
Structure In Wire Sculpture
Wire sculpture can be made from a single continuous strand, many strands, or even wire mesh (remember, there are no rules or restrictions). If you just loop a wire around freeform, it may hold its shape...for a while. The weaker its structure, the more protection it will need to keep from getting distorted.
Don't fret about structure enjoy the concept that there are endless ways to invent that can be yours alone. It's a wonderful long-term puzzle, a true problem-solving dialog. Focus on getting acquainted with the wire. Doodle, make shapes, unravel them, reform them until you've got something you like. So it's a little floppy? If you like it, that doesn't matter. Hang it from a bit of monofilament, or keep in safe in a glass case.
There are so many ways to incorporate structure into wire. Many wire sculptors weld and solder to lock joints in place. On a smaller scale, there's also glue or epoxy. Again, no rules, no limits! When you're just starting out, though, work the wire with just your hands.
Three Wire Exercise
The One Wire Sculpture Rule Written in Stone:
Don't Put Your Eye Out!
Start with three pieces of soft wire in 12-inch lengths and a pair of wire cutters. If you have an assortment of wire, start with the type that looks most attractive to you. If you brought along extra pliers, jigs, or other items, set them aside. You don't need them. Your most versatile wire sculpture tools are always with you, at the ends of your arms. You want to get as direct a feel for the wire as possible, with as few distracting gimmicks as possible.
Safety glasses are a good idea, but they're not 100% effective. Wire can still get through the ventilation holes. So be sure to cut your wires small.
For your first few sessions with wire, focus on seeing how many different things you can do with just three wires. Doodle around, make little cartoon figures. Or, if there's something you enjoy looking at, a flower or a bug, look at it very closely and see if you can make something like it out of the wire.
As you mess with the wire, your hands will make decisions for you. Let them! Your fingers may connect the wire as they loop, snag, twist, braid or kink the wires to hold them in place as you work on your "wire drawing". As you train yourself to draw with wire instead of ink, your hands will invent new ways to handle wire. Your first wire sculpture projects may be really flimsy, and you may think they look clumsier than you want. You probably felt that way the first time you tried to draw with a pencil or crayon, too. Don't you wish you'd saved those early efforts, so you could see how far you've come? Well, you're going to set aside your early works so you have a little "research trail" of your evolution as a wire sculptor.
My first wire sculpture. Can you tell it's a cat? Lucky my parents saved it for me, I would've thrown it out!
If you have an assortment of different kinds of wire, try the three wire exercise with different types. Copper, including plastic coated telephone wire, is soft and pliable. This may make it easier to shape. It may also make it a little harder to hold together as a structure. Pay attention to how different wires feel in your hands. Is there a texture, smooth or rough, that you really enjoy? For instance, steel will have a different feel than copper. Try thin wires, also thicker wires. Which feel better to hold and to shape? Follow your instinct, and spend more time with the wire you really like. Don't throw out the wire you like less, though. Store it for the future. Instead of thinking, That wire doesn't work well for me, think, that wire doesn't work well for me... yet! Once you've achieved mastery of your "personal wire", you'll discover that other kinds of wire are much easier to work with.
Any time you're just not satisfied with what you make, it's okay to take it apart and start over. With practice, it'll come faster and smoother, your creations will get more like you intended. But you'll be surprised how much character even your startup squiggles have! Hang on to them, use them as minor ornaments around the house. Give some to people you think might enjoy them.
There's no rule that says you can only make wire sculpture at a certain time, in a certain setting. You can mess with wire while you're sitting at a table, or in an easy chair, or standing up. I don't leave home without a bit of wire and a pair of cutters. That way I'm never bored if the flight I'm waiting for is late, or the line at the post office is twenty people long.
If you get totally immersed in wire sculpture, stay careful. otherwise, in your excitement to create, you may get careless and risk poking your eye. When I started out, my hands were always raw, scratched up and blistered. Eventually I developed callouses, like a guitarist, and I gradually learned to "dodge" the wires. If you work wire a lot, you also have to be aware of carpal tunnel inflammation. And you don't ever want the instant-wakeup of wire under a fingernail...just stay careful, stay alert.
The One Wire Sculpture Rule Written in Stone:
Don't Put Your Eye Out!
This is end of Part Two. Get out there and mess with wire! Explore, innovate, make mistakes and learn from them! •
© 2005 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved.
Elizabeth Berrien, acclaimed as Godmother of the modern wire sculpture movement, has made a living from her wire animals since 1980. Her works are exhibited in museums, airports, corporate settings, homes and landscapes around the world. More »