Starting a New Project, a Mosaic Orca

I’m starting a new project, peeps! This one is going to be an Orca. Breaching on a column of waves. With lights, of course!  The orca I’m going to do in white and a dark violet, Black is the actual color, but it doesn’t illuminate the way that I want this to be. 

Here’s pics of the beginning of the form! Truthfully, this is a fairly crucial part of the process, It’s better to have the form as close to what I need as possible, to minimize work and the chances of error, 

I’ll be doing the dorsal fin and the pectoral fins separately from the body, then attaching them before attaching to the wave column. I need to be able to move the orca around in order to find the sweet spot for the center of gravity. I want this to be sturdy and to be able to stand a child getting overly friendly.

Today was the body, tomorrow is the head and the fins. I have to pick up some plastic to line the inside of the form for the expansion foam, then I can line the inside with it. Wrinkles really don’t matter, because I’ll just plane them off.

Here’s some pics of today’s progress!

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Pictures, Pictures and MORE Pictures !!!

One big, old bear butt!

One big ole bear butt!

More pictures! These will make up for the lack of pics in the last post. In fact, it was hard as could be to get these pics up. Holy freakin’ COW! But it sure shouldn’t be as hard as it was. If this Windows 8 computer was testing me, it needs to stop. I failed the test. Miserably. I know it’s been awhile since I posted last, but check it out. I made up for it. 😉 Here’s the images I promised in the last post. Enjoy! we have 24 hours worth of work left to do, then he’s ready for delivery. I wanted to get it done before Christmas, but no luck. He will be ready for a New Year’s party, I think. I have a little more fiberglass to do, for the nose, then at the feet; some glass tile, a bit o’ grout, and this baby is DONE! The base is oak plank, with a steel structure inside, and gets it’s stain tomorrow. Then we hook him up to the base, to make sure all of the bugs are worked out before delivery, and then off to Seattle and his luxurious new home! ImageImage ImageImage                                            ImageImage      

‘Polar Bear Dentist,’ a New Career Path?

The first glass to go on!

The first glass to go on!
Sharp teeth and most of his nose!

Forcing the head into submission

Forcing the head into submission

Close up of the bottom teeth and the tongue, blue glass on the bear's lip.

Close up of the bottom teeth and the tongue, blue glass on the bear’s lip.













I’ve been working on the bear’s jaw set and tongue. I have to say, they look pretty ferocious!

The mouth of the bear in real life is dark and blue; I’ve used glass to replicate that darkness. In this case, Mr. Bear had to have his palate and the white glass grout painted with Peboa glass paints. One good blast from the heat gun and that stuff is ON THERE! No doubt about it! I have a little work to do to clean the teeth before we attach the base.

Today, I’m covering the teeth in a thin coat of latex rubber. I find that it’s easier to get fiberglass resin drips off. One just peels off the latex and voila! Clean polar bear teeth! They did look pretty realistic; I cut myself, and got blood on the lower fangs. Kinda disturbing, in a way…

OK, I have pics of this bear’s mouth. Check  ’em out!

The attaching of this head has been an adventure, I have to say.

In years to come, if there were ever a dispute as to if this was my work, just swab some of the glass in the mouth; I’m sure there’s some of my DNA in there.

The face/head had to be done in pieces. I had to put shims in spots to make up for the lost mass from the kerf, the cut fiberglass that then makes the pieces 1/8″ away from one another.

This can really screw up a good form. So I got my trusty sticks, some rope and there we go.

Kinda off topic, but not…

The sticks. I bet humanities first tool was a stick, and here we are, with the dust of centuries, millennia, behind us and what is still the favored human tool? The humble stick.

Or in my case, not so humble paint sticks from Home Depot with bad attitudes. I think that when I stick a stick in a place that needs a stick, that stick ought to stay there, right?

It turns out that as far as the sticks are concerned, I can stick it. Just not where I want the sticks to go. So I said screw it, and went with a rope solution.

Polar bear bondage…



Check This Bear OUT!

The lights in the arms had to be done before the arm was put together.

The lights in the arms had to be done before the arm was put together.

Light ropes in the torso

Light ropes in the torso

This is going to be a long post, I’ve been busy and adding to it over the last few days before falling asleep.


Yesterday and today I got quite a bit done; I’ll be tiling the form with the glass very soon. Today it was time to start assembling the puzzle.

Yesterday was spent hanging the lights and doing the necessary adjustments to the armature. I also got the fiber optic fibers for the upper paws glued into place. We also got the arm attached on one side of the arm, we’ll do the other side tomorrow, which will fully attach one arm and get the second arm started.

It was necessary to glue those into place and then put the fiberglass over the fiber.

I knew that putting this together was going to be a challenge, because of the kerf from the saw. When putting the bear back together after it was cut off of the form, that had to be taken into account; that kerf is about 1/8″ and that throws off measurement! But with the proper clamps, that 1/8″ discrepancy is not an issue.

It always surprises me that one of the most common mistakes in fabrication is forgetting that kerf. Like I said, me and my sexy assistant, Chuck, we use a number of clamps to get the parts in their proper spots taking that 1/8″ into account. They make these cool things, cross shaped doo-hickeys, for tiling, called spacers. I find them to be multipurpose cool little objects.

Here’s some more images of the lighting installation:

Lighting for the inside of the head  DSCN3040

The lighting for the inside of the head and the first illumination!

It required my thinking hood. I think really well with my hood on, headphones and the grinder going.

But I think this is going to work out just perfectly. The light fixture lights need to be finished hanging; at this point, they’re hanging loosely where I want them to go . The only thing I’m thinking of redoing, is the long life lights that are too white, I think. It’s going to depend upon how it looks once the glass is on. It’s better to do this change after the application of the glass, because how it looks through the form is never totally indicative of what the final look will be.

The first illumination


The putting together of the arms had a challenge that my sexy and ever-so-smart assistant, Chuck, came up with the idea of using a kid’s punch ball in the arm. It was a team effort, one of us had to hold the balloon at the bottom of where it needed to be, then inflated the thick balloons with the compressor.The ballooon

It worked perfectly! The balloon filled the arm and held it in the right spot for the application of the fiberglass to the seam. In fact, that worked far better than expected. I see a future in buying some sheet rubber. Had we thought of this sooner, that would have been what we did; cut the needed bladder out of some heavy duty rubber, put on a two way valve, and these things can be used anywhere.

I tell you, I am so glad that I married that man. He is not only sexy, but he’s an art tool, in his own right. He’s had a helluva lot of construction experience, and those skills apply to this, along with my skills in welding, and sewing.

Sewing experience, particularly in making a 2D surface become a 3D object like a stuffed toy or a purse, has been invaluable in my art experience all the way around.

See young artists, never scoff at learning a new set of skills, you just never know when that skill will be of use in a particular situation, and/or in an art project.


This balloon was popped and pulled out after we were done with the initial cure. I’m doing more fiberglassing tonight. I have claws to finish sanding, as they are going to be the first glass that’s applied to the bear, then the jaw set, and the tongue, then the face/head will be fiberglassed onto the torso of the bear.

It’s an epic project and I just LOVE IT!!!

Let There be Light in the Bear!

We spent last night and the night before, doing fabrication of the lighting armature. The lighting of the bear has to be done before the third and fourth coats of fiberglass go on the bear.

After cutting out the original door, I decided that I didn’t like it; too narrow and too high up. We’ve put the original door piece in and fiberglassed over it. It came out great. After all of the coats are done, then I’ll determine where the door is going to go and then Chuck will cut that out. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to fabricate the hinges for it, but I have an idea…

I’ll post it when the idea coalesces better in my head.

Here’s some images from last night’s work period.

As you can see, the bear is partially together; it won’t be long before I put the glass on! I’m really looking forward to that!

Putting together the armature

Putting together the armature for the internal lighting.

The armature is made up of mostly acrylic rods. I used a piece of white plastic to fabricate the “joints”, so to speak, between rod and armature. The donuts, as I call ’em, started out as solid white block. I just love the drill press! *happy sigh* It allowed me to create a part that would have been hard to find and hard to adapt. Hey, any excuse I can find to buy a new tool is a good one!

The center armature


The LED rope lights. This is the first of them. They’ll be wound round an armature in the legs.

The first of the light fixtures is in, but not set yet. I have to get the lights set at this point in the build. There are parts of this that will be MUCH easier to do before the final three pieces go on. Then we’ll cut the door into the body.

Here’s more light pics!


Putting the Bear Together

Chuck and I have been busy today. We put the top of the bear on the bottom of the bear to form one HUGE bear form. Here’s a couple of different views of the bear. The face and the tops of the arms will go on tomorrow after we finish setting the donuts and bending the acrylic rod that will be the armature down each leg, each arm and down into the face.

The bear rises!!

The bear rises above. I’ve had a load of looky-loos!

Side view of curing bear

side view of the bear, as it’s curing


This part of the bear is really a coming together of disparate parts that will make the whole. The armature for the lights, the “skeleton” of the bear, so to speak, is the next phase of the project.

Here’s a view of how the top was attached to the bottom. It’s acrylic tabs and fiberglass as well as liberal applications of E6000. I ought to buy stock in that company; get a return on all of the money I spend on that product!

Acrylic bands for the attaching of the top and bottom into one.

Acrylic bands for the attaching of the top and bottom into one.

Base of the bear spine

Wooden spacer to get the curve right at the base of the spine

The acrylic rod was fiberglassed to the body at this point, then the shelf for the LED fiber optic generator along with two “donuts” above it and two below it.

The idea is that one of these “donuts” as I call ’em, will then hold the rods that will form the armatures down the legs, arms and head.

The fiber optics are going to be laid in at this point, as well. I’ll be running the fibers into the claws, nose, tongue and eyes.

Truthfully, the most challenging part of this is turning out to be the eyes. It’s looking like molds are going to be the answer to the challenges I’m facing.

I did some experimentation today, and eh… I am not impressed. Time to recast them. I also have one more piece of the nose to cast as well, the center part between the nostrils. After that, the kiln goes into it’s box and into storage.

Here’s some more images of the bear. This is the connection point after being fiberglassed with a heavy weight fabric. I’ll be using that from here on out, to give the glass a good foundation to hold the weight of the glass. I have a square support rod that will be under the tail, into the back, to assist in stabilizing the bear.

Here I am, cleaning up the claws. I want them to have a sea glass look, as I’ve mentioned before, so I’m grinding the surface with diamond bits and then using jewelers rouge to give the claws and the tongue a rich, satin finish. I do like what it does. I think that I get the best results from a combination of my little bench grinder/polisher, and my Dremel rotary tool. There is another company that I ought to get stock in; my purchases alone made a salesman swoon with happiness to see me.

shaping and cleaning the claws

Shaping and cleaning the claws

Cleaning and polishing the claws

See, remember folks, do not forget the dust mask. It’s gotta be an N95. Life is too short to get a nasty lung

disease. Have I mentioned it’s incurable?

I’m pretty sure that jeweler’s rouge is no better than the glass powder, so I wear that mask religiously!!

I’m also working on the tongue of the bear, a beautiful dark blue. It’s been a fun process, the carving of the tongue and the teeth.

They come out of the mold, in the basic shape, but there is always air bubbles, or places were the mold cracked and some glass leaked into the crack. It only happened once.

This has been a pretty fun process; I’m enjoying this quite a bit.

I knew this bear was going to be epic, but I have decided on a scale of epic measured by a standard scale of 1-10, that this project is a 15.

I think that there should be at least one minstrel writing a ballad about this. Where’s a cheap minstrel when a girl needs one? I’m pretty sure that minstrels don’t work cheap. My only knowledge of them comes from fantasy novels, which I really do like.

Heavy weight fiberglass in big pieces.

Heavy weight fiberglass in big pieces

We have the bear lying down on a table, with the center rod of the armature propped up with the shelf for the LED illuminator.
The interesting part is how to get the rods bent in the right angle for the legs. The arms are pretty easy; they just need two supports at different points of the arm, to help guide the LED’s and the fibers for the optic system. I’m going to run those before putting the arms together with fiberglass. The fibers are tiny and will easily be lead into the claws by a thin diameter piece of wire, like a crochet hook.

Once the bear has the lights run into the places it needs to be, then on goes the arms, to be attached to the form. It’s gonna be really cool. Now, this leaves us the face of the bear. That will have a short armature and will be pointed into the nose area. The idea is another support for the lights and the fibers.The tiny holes that I need to drill for the very fine fibers are going in right before I tack the tongue to the lower jaw. Then I’ll be wrapping the light fibers and the rope lights around the clear acrylic rods that represent the skeleton. The very last part of the lights to go in will be the fixtures for the long life bulbs.

They are energy efficient; I considered that to be important to the piece. The concept, in my view, needs to extend to the materials that we use, even. In my case, since the bear is a creature of two worlds, the sea and the ice, as well as the land, that needed to be reflected in the materials. His sea glass style claws, tongue and teeth will do exactly that.

His connection with the land, with the ice, these are an inextricable part of the bear, as well. I’ve gotten the oak frame done, a shout out to my wonderful husband, Chuck! He is the perfect employee! He works cheap and has a sharp wit right along with construction and masonry experience, so he is often able to see a part of the project in a way that I, having nowhere near the experience in construction he has, give way to him on many of his insights. The design and the art are all mine, but the infrastructure, most certainly is a joint effort. He teaches me something new on a regular basis.

Working away

Working away!

Tomorrow is another work day, with the armature being set at the top, as well. I’m pretty sure that by tomorrow, I’ll have lights! Then after the lights go in, then it’s time for the base work!

I’m torn on the base; I’ve been having visions of making the base look like a piece of ice floe. It’s been really bugging me. I can just see it, with “snow” drifts, like the ones I remember in Alaska, around the bear’s feet.

On the front of the base, I’m using both aluminum and copper, to make the plate.
The plate will have the Latin name embossed on copper, mounted to the aluminum with brass rivets. I think that will look nice and classy. I’ve done the embossed metal plates before; I find them to be a simple, yet elegant solution.

The copper has adhesive on the back of it for stained glass work, so it’s very nice to be able to have the copper securely, yet easily, repositionable. I’ll do that as the very last thing before I start the process for shipping and installation.

I have my crew; three men at least, as well as me, supervising. The next step is to see what is the most cost effective way to get the piece from Portland, OR to Seattle, WA. I’m leaning towards a moving truck that I can then build a shock-free shipping cradle. It’s somewhat like a hammock, but secured at a number of points. These points keep the sculpture stable, but still give it a shock free ride in the hammock.

With that in mind, I’ve begun looking at moving trucks. It’s looking like that may be the way to go.

I admit it. I am a control freak when it comes to my art work. I feel that is the only way to be. This art has been commissioned with complete faith in me and my skills. I feel that everything, ESPECIALLY the shipping, needs me to be the advocate for my art work.

I’ve started looking now, as I think this is going to come together swiftly once I reach the part where the actual mosaic process occurs. That part, the glass mosaic, is actually not as long as one might think; its the prep work that takes forever. If the foundation isn’t right, the project is inherently fated to fail. The foundation is coming along nicely.

The other part of tomorrow, if there’s time, is another coat of fiberglass over the entire form, making that coat #3. After that cures, then it’s time for the final coat. The final coat is the one that has to be perfect; it has to be smooth as a peach skin, smooth with no major flaws to disturb the final coat of fiberglass. This final coat will get curing agent, as recommended, in the resin.

Pictures tomorrow!

And even MORE fiberglassing today!

The second coat of the fiberglass is on the top of the bear. Time to let it sit and cure. While that happens, I’ve got glass to cast! It’s been hot as can be, and I’ve decided that since it’s 16 hour, 48 minute program for the kiln, that this is an activity for the dark and cooler night to do the castings.

I’m happy with the wax casts of the claws; they are going to look dynamite with the side light fiber optic cable in the center. The jaws and the claws as well as the second cast of the tongue are all night time activities. They are going to be looking VERY cool!!

After the second coat is done, then off it comes from the form, in pieces which I’ll put back together with fiberglass. During that period, I’ll get the acrylic door framed in. Then we can mount the armature for the lights, install the lights, and then fasten the bear to the base.

Surprisingly the mosaic part goes pretty quickly. The majority of the time is spent on the form, the base and the electronics, getting ready to mosaic. 

While the fiberglass cures, I’ll get the glass cut up for the project. I’ll post pics tomorrow of the different types of glass. Thick, drapery glass for the spots where the fur furrows, in the neck and other areas. Another type of glass has a matted fur texture, and the other has a slightly raised texture between the two.

The door is going to be interesting. I plan on doing that door so that the mosaic will fit in a pattern, not in a straight line, I want that door to disappear.

This way one can get to the lights, as someday they will need to be changed. The GE long life bulbs are good for 60 years, so those will go in the torso and the head.

The eyes may or may not need their own points on the fiber optic network. The eyes are  tricky part. I can’t do those until I get all of the fiberglass on, all four coats, then I’ll be able to accurately mold and cast the eyes. They HAVE to fit just right.

Also, by doing each eye on it’s own, that gives a natural touch. Most mammals have little quirks, so the eyes being done for each one, gives that little natural touch.

* “So, Colleen, a glass bear is natural but the glass eyes aren’t?” “Yeah, in MY studio, they are! Artistic license!” She retorts.*