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Creating Bronze and the Casting Process

The bronze casting process for sculptures is a complex and intricate method that has been employed for centuries. The process involves many steps to go from the original clay sculpture to the final casting in bronze. Here is an overview of the typical bronze casting process:

 

Creation of the Original Sculpture

 

I create the sculpture using clay, more specifically plasteline which is an oil based clay that doesn’t dry out like traditional fired clay. This initial model is called the "master" or sometimes "maquette."

 

Mold Making

 

A mold is created around the original sculpture to capture its form. The mold material is made of silicone, that can reproduce fine details. The mold is usually created in multiple sections to allow for easier and thorough casting especially if it has complex shapes.

 

Casting the Wax Model

 

The mold is opened, and a thin layer of wax is brushed or poured into the mold. Once the wax has cooled and solidified, it forms a replica of the original sculpture. This wax model is known as the "investment" or "pattern." At this stage I go back into the sculpture to refine additional details that may have been lost in the process.

 

Creating the Shell

 

The wax pattern is then coated with a ceramic shell through a process known as "investing." This involves dipping the wax pattern into a slurry of ceramic material and then coating it with a layer of fine sand. This step is repeated several times to build up a strong, heat-resistant shell around the wax.

 

Melting Out the Wax

 

The ceramic shell with the embedded wax pattern is heated in a kiln, causing the wax to melt and drain out. This leaves a cavity in the shape of the original sculpture inside the ceramic shell.

 

Bronze Pouring

 

Molten bronze is poured into the cavity created by the removed wax. The bronze is typically heated to a temperature exceeding 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Cooling and Breakout

 

The bronze is allowed to cool and solidify within the ceramic shell, forming the final sculpture. Once cooled, the ceramic shell is carefully broken away, revealing the rough bronze casting.

 

Chasing and Finishing

 

The rough casting is cleaned and refined through a process called "chasing." I remove any imperfections, weld marks, and excess metal, as well as refine details.

 

Patination

The finished bronze sculpture then undergoes a patination process to achieve the desired color and surface appearance. While heating the sculpture I apply chemicals at the same time to the surface, which creates various colors according to the type and amount of chemical brushed on.

 

Mounting and Display

 

The completed bronze sculpture is mounted on a base which can vary in size, color, texture. For bronze, I often give granite first consideration.

The bronze casting process requires a combination of artistic skill and technical expertise. It has been a traditional method for creating durable and visually striking sculptures for centuries.

Creating sculpture in steel and copper

Creating in steel, for me, is intuitive. It starts in one of my favorite places - the junkyard. I comb the salvage yards for bits of metal that I think might be useful.

The steel gets stored outside in my "library" of steel or as others refer to it - the junk pile.

When I'm ready, I pull out the welder and start putting pieces together until if feels right.

Then comes the often massive amounts of grinding. There are some pieces that require hours of shaping with the grinder. Most often it's a combination of cutting with an oxyacetylene torch and grinding.

Then choice of patina is applied and the kind of base is considered, constructed and then the sculpture is mounted to the base.

Copper

The copper sculpture are made slightly differently. I still go the junkyard but I collect aged and naturally patinated copper from roofing structures.

The copper is then pounded into shape, cut and additional bending takes place using only one single piece of copper. The patina is fixed with a special lacquer spray. A base is created, usually from wood after figuring out the proper size and shape for the sculpture. The sculpture is then mounted and screwed into the base, allowing the fasteners to show and become part of the sculpture.

Howard Lewis' Bronze sculpture, Bilencia

Bilencia with final patina

Molds for Bilencia at the foundry

Bilencia molds, ready for wax

Howard Lewis applying the patina to the bronze for Bilencia

Bilencia, creating the patina

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