This year found me doing a lot of firsts. I was "gifted" a project late last year by a fellow artist. She was well aware of my love for sea turtles, and had a project she had been asked to create by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She was not able to do the piece and graciously gave it to me because of my "expertise" in painting sea turtles. Intrigued, I contacted the Sea Lab and talked with the person that wanted the project completed.
The project was to be a 3D sculpture of a nest of Sea Turtles! More specifically, a boil of baby turtles. (If you google Sea turtle boil, you will be fascinated as I was.)The DI Lab had borrowed and used a similar piece that was currently in use by both Weeks Bay preserve and themselves. Getting the sculpture back and forth with time constraints included was becoming an issue. The DI Lab proposed and won a grant to get one completed for their use both at the Estuarium and on the road. He already had me excited about the project when he told me it was to be used as a teaching tool both at the lab and on the road. This journey began in November with a meeting that gave me a scope of the piece. Marching papers in hand, I went home and realized the task before me. First, they wanted a "nest" about 15 x 15 x 30 inches. They needed it to be lightweight, durable, portable, and pleasing to the eye. This nest would be encased in an acrylic cover and needed a base for it to mount upon. Second, and the most fun to me was the baby turtles and eggs themselves!
Over the course of the next month, I managed to make a push mold top and bottom from wood, and found a clay that could be used to make the babies. Once each turtle was made and baked, they had to be hand painted. The first few were a process in learning how to manipulate the clay, getting a curvature that was lifelike, then bake them to preserve them in their various positions. Then came the task of painting them to resemble the little babies. Still not under contract, I already had several days work under my belt when I went back to the lab and showed them what I had accomplished. Nervously, I carefully unpacked the first 6 little fruits of my labors. When they examined them and broke out in big grins, I knew I had made the grade! They loved them, and were very pleased at what had been done, and we agreed on a plan of timeline, payment and completion. They contracted for the acrylic while I was to do everything else.
The holidays came and went, and I turned my studio into a crazy mess of clay turtles, sand, paint and foam for the nest. I had an absolute ball completing the project, setting fire accidentally to one of the clay pieces when it slid off the form and hit the burner in the oven. That was a setback that had the husband telling me to no longer leave such a thing unattended again. I had to rebuild several of the babies as they were a bit toasty and unusable. Lesson learned. I also had to turn my attention to the "eggs". The eggs from the other project were made from ping pong balls and mine would be as well. You can manipulate them by heating them with a heat gun to become wrinkled and lose their round shapes. Take care though, they too will catch on fire if heated too quickly. I found this out in my husbands shop one afternoon while playing with the first ones. My beloved glared at me and asked that I please not do that again! No worries there! The nest proved another task, building the layers of foam and manipulating it with a wire brush. Then I moved on to the coating of practically bomb proof paint that is a mixture of sand, glue and paint used for drywall priming. This was painted onto the foam and then I pushed sand into the wet mixture for more texture. The nest looked very heavy when completed, but is relatively lightweight, and yes, practically bomb proof. I then began the task of mounting the completed turtles, eggs and additional sand to complete the look.
This piece gave me a great deal of growth as an artist. It made me learn, experiment, and complete things I had never done before. Push molds, sculpey clay, three dimensional work, and a bag to carry the piece in for transport, it all stretched my imagination and made a learning curve I will not soon forget. By the time I finished the project, my love for turtles was complete and I felt as though I had been through a college course with my final being the nest.