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The Great Kanagawa Nautilus


Usually I focus on more organic patterns and effects on my shells but this time I decided to try something different. One of the most iconic examples of Japanese art is a a woodblock depiction of "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" by Katsushika Hokusai. The cresting wave settled into the curve of the nautilus shell perfectly and once I had seen that for the first time I was committed (of course I had to flip it to fit the outside of my shell).

The Great wave Off Kanagawa Katsushika, Hokusai (葛飾北斎) via Wikimedia Commons

The skills I have learnt over the last few years have been typically modern as I come from an engineering background. However, I've always been fascinated by the skills of traditional Japanese metal workers and more recently discovered Ford Hallam, a westerner who has achieved legendary status in Japanese metalworking techniques. I strongly urge you to take a look at his work (click for link). This project represents the culmination of my experience so far in making bronze sculpture.

With a blank nautilus cast in wax I began the initial carving into the surface; I'll admit it took much longer than I expected and gave me even more respect for the original wooden carvings. Here is one of the early work in progress photos:

Early stages of wax carving.

Once the wax work was completed the shell is prepared for building the ceramic shell by adding wax rods and a funnel. These rods eventually form the sprues which feed the molten bronze into the shell. The ceramic mould is formed over 3-4 days by applying layers of a ceramic slurry and silica sand to the wax. They are not only awkward and heavy but fairly fragile, so the final few coats get tricky.

After 6-7 layers the mould is thick enough to survive the wax burnout leaving a hollow space in the shape of the shell and sprues. It is dried over several days before being placed into a preheated furnace. The ceramic shell is left to cool before the vents are sealed and it is ready for the bronze.

The hot ceramic mould after burnout.

The shell is preheated in another furnace reducing the thermal shock from the molten bronze and aids the flow through the small passages.

Preheating the ceramic mould.

Meanwhile, in a separate furnace, the bronze is melted and heated to around 1100°C in a crucible and then poured into the mould.

Once the bronze has cooled and solidified I can breathe easy. The dangers of brittle wax and fragile ceramics have passed and weeks of work are secure in the almost indestructible chunk of bronze. Now the sprues are cut off, the shell is cleaned and then the final carving, polishing, patinating work begins.

The buttery smooth texture of sand blasted bronze now takes the final details before polishing. I hammered the internal chambers giving the shimmering effect seen below inspired by the Japanese tsuchime-ji (槌目地)(hammer-blow surface) used for some decorative surfaces on sword fittings:

Peening the internal chambers.

Naturally the patina on this one needed to follow the original print so I used a copper nitrate based patina on the sea, polished the wave crests and Mt Fuji and left the sky a natural aged brown from the flames during patination. The final piece:

The Great Kanagawa Nautilus

#Nautilus #Bronze #Japan #Sculpture #Art #GreatWave #Kanagawa

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