Pas De Deux Lawn Sculpture

lawn sculpture

Pas de Deux #1
Rotating View

Here are some additional views of the Pas De Deux Lawn Sculpture, including an animated GIF rotated through 11 views. It’s fun to watch it rotate. In fact, I could make it with a slowly rotating base for you. You can click through the images one at a time, in sequence, or click on the rotating thumbnail to see bigger rotated images. This Pas de Deux sculpture is made with 1/8″ aluminum for the sculpture and 1/4″ aluminum for the bases. Aluminum is a bright silvery metal ideal for lawn sculptures. It is very strong (used for airplanes, boats and race cars) and never rusts.

This lawn sculpture is quite tall, 9’4″ tall and 30″ wide and deep. This height includes 30″ total for the bases. The bottom-most base is a flat plate of 1/4″ aluminum, 30″ x 30″ square, with a mounting hole in each corner. We delivered this sculpture to an eastern suburb of Cleveland in 2011. It was actually installed in the garden courtyard of a fabulous designer home.  Here you can read more about the lawn sculpture installation.

This lawn sculpture was a joy to make. In addition, we had it in our sculpture garden for about a year and it was a joy to see every day. It was also installed in front of the Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City, Indiana for a while, where it drew a lot of attention and praise.

Lawn Sculpture – How Tall Is Best?

Many times people ask me, “How tall should a lawn sculpture be?”  The answer to that question is properly, “it depends”. It depends on how big your front lawn of your garden site is. Garden sites are usually smaller and therefore a 5-6′ tall sculpture might be enough. A big front lawn with a circle drive might require a 11-12′ sculpture: a smaller size lawn sculpture might look undersized there. A lawn sculpture in the back yard that you might view from the distance from your deck might be ideal at 7-8′ tall.

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Shouldn’t Free Standing Sculptures Actually Stand on Their Own?

free standing sculptures

Free Standing Sculpture 1
won’t stand on it’s own! Note the two bricks required to keep it standing

My philosophy of sculptures includes the belief that free standing sculptures should stand on their own. But not all sculptors think this way. The sculpture to the right is an example of a poorly planned sculpture. It won’t stand on its own outside for more than a half hour unless the wind is totally calm and you have it perfectly balanced on very flat ground. Inside, you could lean it in a corner or against a wall. There are no holes in the base to secure it to something wide and heavy. I finally had to weight the base down with two bricks to make it stay upright. But it’s still precarious. We keep it near the building to protect it from the wind.

Granite Bases for Small Sculptures – How To Guide

granite sculpture base

Granite Sculpture Base
12″ x 12″ x 1.25″ thick

I often use granite sculpture bases for my smaller inside sculptures: they are , solid, heavy and look good. To the right is a granite base I bought from Camristone International in Wanatah, Indiana. I have bought sculpture bases like this for $100 each from a retail granite seller. Camristone sold these for $30 each in 2011 (I bought 10 and am still working through my stack) and also drilled the center hole with the recessed back.  The drawback is that they don’t ship: you have to go pick them up. But there may well may be a wholesale granite supplier in your area that will make these for you.

Sphere Sculpture Designs



I worked on two different designs to build a sphere sculpture today: a truncated icosahedron  (on the left) and an intricately woven projected rhombic dodecahedron (below and right). They were both concepts I started last summer. Both were made with 1/8″ aluminum. The truncated icosahedron is made with thirty 12″ x 4″ rectangles riveted together with 120 rivets and is 24″ high.

March Public Art Opportunities

Public Art Opportunities – Yearly in Cary, NC

Cary Visual Art is a grass-roots non-profit public art organization in Cary, North Carolina. CVA facilitates permanent placements, temporary exhibitions, and community programming.

Sculpture Workshop 3-16-2012

Sculpture Shop Time Management Tool

Sculpture Shop Time Management Tool

 Sculpture Workshop: Time

Chess Clock – ever wonder how much time you are actually in the shop? Wondering why your projects are taking so long to finish? It is very easy to take a restroom break, grab another cup of coffee, do an email quote, return a phone call – suddenly an hour has gone by. This clock will keep you honest.

Learned This Week: 2-15-2012

large landscape sculptures

Pas de Deux 1
112″h x 30″w x 30″d

It’s been a very busy month in the sculpture shop. I am only working on one project, a slightly smaller version of my Pas de Deux sculpture design. I am trying to keep careful account of the time required so that I can more accurately price these sculptures. Looks like it’s going to end up being about 80 hours. It is a pleasure to work on only one project. I am naturally a high-focus person and, when I am trying to do too many projects at once, I can feel like the Linda Blair character in the first Exorcist movie (1973), with my head spinning around. Multi-tasking  can be very exhausting but sometimes it’s the only choice, running several tests and procedures, in the sculpture shop, one after another.

Sculpture Crack Detector Disaster – When a Product Causes More Problems Than it Solves

Large Double Ribbon Mobius Sculpture

Large Double Ribbon Mobius Sculpture


The path to success is paved with many failures: here’s the story of one such learning experience using a crack detector kit.

In July, I began working on a 84″ tall double strip mobius. I thought it would be an easy quick project, but I was still working on it in September. The sculpture ended up being 10′ tall.

The concept of the mobius is that it is a strip with a 180 degree twist in its length prior to the ends being joined. This creates a strip with only one side, versus a normal loop that has two sides. Here’s a  Wikipedia article explaining the mobius concept more graphically.

With a 30″ high double strip mobius, I can take one continuous 96″ slit strip of 10 gauge metal and shape it with the roller and the body bender (me and my muscles working with a vise).

With a 120″ high double strip mobius, I had to break the strips down into six 96″ lengths of 1/4″ aluminum, shape each piece, then line it up and butt weld to its ends and adjoining strips. It sounds easy and it seemed easy too, until I started trying to get the end loops to meet up. I could do it fine as a non-mobius (Nobius) but the mobius design requires a 180 degree flip. I wasn’t talking directly with the client – my wife was – so I assumed the client was a math-freak like me and wanted the mobius concept. Later I was to learn that he had no idea what the word mobius meant. Live and learn.

Then the strips had to be butt welded and/or side welded. Most people run a bead and leave it at that, but I wanted the ribbons to look seamless, beadless and non-welded, so after running a bead, I ground the bead flat. The bead would look terrific, then I would grind it flat and pinholes, small cracks and voids would appear where the two pieces of metal met.

Porosity is a major bugaboo of welding. Porosity is identified as tiny pits and voids in a weld. Porosity weakens the welded area, kind of like the perforations on stamps.

Common causes of porosity are moisture or oil on the surface of the metal, hydrogen dissolved in the hot puddle or oxygen (from oxide) on the surface of the metal, dirty mig wire and similar. In my case, since the porosity was at the bottom of the weld, it was probably caused by oxygen, since I had cleaned the weld with a flap wheel and acetone just prior to welding. Where did the oxygen come from? Aluminum reacts very quickly with oxygen, especially when it is clean and bright, so it must have come from the newly formed oxide layer.  Breaking up the aluminum oxide layer with a dedicated (for-aluminum-only) stainless steel brush seconds before doing the weld helps.

Of course, the flap wheel could have ground in some dirt, and the acetone-soaked cloth could have left some contamination. Sometimes it is difficult to track down the true cause of porosity.

To repair the porosity, I was enlarging the holes with a drill, cleaning with the stainless steel brush, and re-migging the hole, starting about 1/2″ away and running it in. It’s very hard to see what path you should be taking with the helmet on, so I drew red lines on each side of the problem area to keep me lined up. See the photo to the left.

Sculpture Crack Detector – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Magnaflux SpotCheck Crack Detector

Magnaflux SpotCheck Crack Detector

I’m an over-achiever/perfectionist with a fair level of obsessive compulsive disorder. I had bought some crack detector – Magnaflux’s SpotCheck– at my local welding supply house a number of years before, but never tried it. Since this sculpture would be going to a high-wind area, I wanted to remove as much porosity as possible, to minimize the chance of cracks forming later.

I pre-cleaned the areas with acetone, sprayed on the red dye as lightly as possible (hard to do – this is a super low-viscosity oil and comes out of the nozzle at high speed), then sprayed on the SpotCheck Developer after a minute or so. It certainly worked. However, it did not reveal any hidden cracks or voids that I had not already seen with the naked eye. To the right is a photo showing two aluminum ribbons both butt welded and side/butt welded with the red dye penetrant very visible.

So then I had to clean off the crack detector. I went through about twenty clean rags soaked in acetone. The crack detector dye was down in the voids and wouldn’t come out. I drilled out the voids, cleaned again with a clean cloth and acetone, scratched with the stainless steel brush, welded the holes, ground the welds flat – the voids were still there – maybe even worse than before!

It took about a week of this repeated effort to finally get the voids fixed. A week of wasted effort, but I learned a lesson – an expensive lesson. Don’t use Crack Detector!

Crack Detector – What I should have done

I should have used the Tig welder on DC- with a 2% lanthanated sharp tip. This works great – much better than the balled tip AC method for Tig welding aluminum. And much better than repairing the voids with Mig.  The heat goes right to the void, melts it flat, easy to fill the puddle.

For butt welds in 1/4″ aluminum I’ve learned to clamp a 1/4″ aluminum plate to the back of the butt weld. Then start the weld on the backing plate and run it on to the butt weld, then off the other side. This avoid the cold cracking at the start of the bead and the crater problem at the end.

I also learned to set the Trim on the Mig welder to the lowest possible setting, with the wire feed speed on a very high setting. I did the Mig welding with a Lincoln Electric Power Mig 300 with the cobra push-pull gun and 4043 wire. The metal was all 5052 aluminum.

Of course, I should never have used the SpotCheck crack detector. You would have thought my welding supply house would have warned me. Guess no one bothered to tell them either.

I should have used my high pressure washer with a high-powered soap to clean it off.  Unfortunately, when in a rush, the best ideas sometimes don’t occur to me right when I need them. That’s why I keep a notebook and write the ideas down. Hopefully I will remember immediately what I need to remember when the next opportunity comes up.

More dye showed up again when I lacquered the metal with acrylic. The acrylic sucked the dye right out all the places I hadn’t been able to find before! Embarrassing.

crack detector

Large Double Strip Mobius Sculpture

Crack Detector – What is it good for?

It’s great if you don’t have to weld after using SpotCheck. Here’s a LocknStitch crack repair video and here’s a LocknStitch Tutorial.

That’s it – I hope I’ve persuaded you to not make the same mistake with crack detector as I did!

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Stainless Steel for Sculptures – How To Guide – Must Read for Sculptors

stainless steel sculpture

Wavy Column
Stainless Steel Sculpture

Which Stainless Steel to Choose?

  • I prefer 304, a low-carbon, austentic stainless steel for stainless steel sculptures. 304 is the primary stainless steel used for sculptures, architecture, manufacturing, etc. 304’s composition provides a better structural advantage and durability over 316, in most cases, as well as being less expensive.
  • I am usually planning to weld the stainless steel and choose 304L, the low carbon version of 304. 304 and 304L are both 18-8, i. e. 18% chromium and 8% nickel. 304L has a lower carbon content (.03% maximum) than 304 which minimizes carbide precipitation occuring when welding. Consequently, 304L can be used ‘as welded’ in severe corrosion environments and eliminates the need for annealing the metal
  • I usually choose the 2B finish. The 2B finish is a mill finish, which is smooth and not the brushed finish commonly seen on kitchen appliances. I do a lot of shaping, hammering and welding of the metal, which mean I have to repair the surface and create my own finish.
  • 316 looks exactly like 304 but has 2-3% molybdenum added for even greater resistance to oxidation and corrosion. 316 is the preferred metal for food preparation, breweries, pharmaceuticals, laboratory use, etc. and any containers or objects that require resistance to extreme environmental conditions such as salt water, halides and acids.
  • Occasionally I will use the 201 alloy of stainless steel for non-fountain, indoor sculptures. 201 is 4.5% nickel, 7% manganese and 16.3% chromium – it looks the same as 304 but is less expensive. It has a lower level of chromium and nickel than 304 but more manganese. It’s about 30 percent stronger than 304 but has less corrosion resistant and is more difficult to form and weld than 304.