smells like dying

Fellow makers, do be careful when playing with noxious chemicals. Two days after using some polyurethane sealer, my reasonably well-ventilated shop still smells like molten plastic*.

*To be clear, it's nasty. It reeks like a mashup of Toy Story and Apocalypse Now in there.

I'm the second person I know who has managed to choke themselves on chemical fumes in the last week. I was fortunate, my friend managed to give herself a nasty case of chemical pneumonia.

I got a sore throat for my trouble, and the urge to remind people to be careful. Even when using allegedly "safe" products, wear a respirator. Work outside if at all possible.

Better yet, do both and seek out products that don't actively try to kill you while you make art. Your lungs will thank me for it.

 

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category: studio
07 / 07 / 2010

 

stragglers in the studio

Whenever I create Mitsuro designs with any sort of exacting specifications, it's a trial and error process. I end up making several iterations of an idea, and each attempt gets me a little closer to the final design.

I liked these quite a bit. I plan on casting them in bronze later this month, and they'll eventually find their way into my fall collection.*

*Assuming, of course, that some enterprising patron of the arts doesn't see this as an opportunity to call "dibs" on as-yet unreleased work. That would be unthinkable. And shocking. And greatly appreciated. And stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. - More images of these waxes here.

 

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category: studio
06 / 10 / 2010

 

studio al fresco

Yesterday the confluence of an absolutely gorgeous day and the need to work with some particularly noxious chemicals had me packing some of my studio gear and working out on the back porch of the studio.

The big project of the afternoon? Patination.

When silicon bronze is initially cast, the raw metal is kind of a bland color. Over time, the surfaces will darken via oxidation. Of course, the warm color isn't just for show; that tiny layer of oxide build-up also protects the surfaces of the castings from corrosion.

raw bronze castings

Without patination, it's kind of bland.

As handy a natural phenomenon as this might be, Mother Nature isn't likely to finish the job before my next opening. In order to speed up the process, metalworkers apply a variety of chemical oxidizers to forcibly create patinas on metal. Each chemical has a different effect, which will vary based on the metal it is applied to and the method by which it is applied.*

*If you're interested in a ridiculous amount of metallurgical nerdity on this topic, check out The Colouring, Bronzing and Patination of Metals Richard Hughes and Michael Rowe.

Silicon bronze's innate resistance to corrosion is an excellent attribute, but it also makes this entire process even harder. My first collection of bronzes narrowly avoided failure, simply because I couldn't find anything strong enough to cut into the surfaces.

Which brings me to yet another note to the metallurgically nerdy: Seriously, be really careful about searching up a random recipe for a bronze patina and experimenting. While it's possible fortune might smile upon you and darken your metal, some of these mixes are really dangerous.

Even worse, they may kill you while not working at all.

Most of the classic recipes in the public domain were formulated for use on the older style zinc-based bronzes. These alloys went out of common use back in the Eighties, replaced by more durable and workable silicon-based alloys.

These modern metals will laugh off most of the classic methods of coloration. Usually at four in the morning, two days before your show's opening. Trust me, I'm wise only from experience.

Fortunately, that same "wisdom" led me to discovering a mix that worked pretty well. Unfortunately it's also caustic, flammable and toxic.

don't drink the soup

Around here, we call it The Soup.

This lovely concoction is slowly raised to near-boiling temperatures, at which point the fumes alone are strong enough to rust lesser metals. It also can do a number on your lungs, which is why I was so thankful for the pleasant weather.

Three rounds of dip, wipe, dry and repeat gives you something...disgusting, but dark.

You wanted that well done, right?

No really, this is a good thing.

From this stage, the pieces are left to rust for a day, and then I start the slow process of polishing the uppermost surfaces back towards a shine. This will leave the lowest areas the most darkened, and the patina that got into the pores of the metal will (hopefully) color the entire piece beautifully.

You can see the results of this mad science in about two weeks, at the Spring Art Mart.

 

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category: studio
04 / 09 / 2010

 

the queen's cup runs happily dry

Queen of Cups was my first limited edition giclée, and a few days ago it finally sold out!

The illustration was created in conjunction with a Valentine's Day art event benefiting Genesis Women's Shelter. To raise money for their cause, we produced a small but high-quality run of fourteen hand-signed and numbered prints.

Half of those prints sold at auction that night, with 100% of their proceeds being donated to Genesis.

I did have one bit of personal gain that evening. I traded number fourteen from my edition with artist Michelle Stroescu. She's an amazing artist who was also participating in the benefit, and we decided to "swap fourteens" during the reception.

As for the remaining giclées, a few friends and clients added them to their personal collections over the years. Eventually I found myself with the final print from the edition, lucky number thirteen, framed on my office wall.

A few weeks ago, a friend who shares my passions for wine and art saw the piece at my studio, and decided it would look better on his wall than mine.

In honor of the original intent of the series, I'll be donating a portion of the proceeds to Genesis Women's Shelter.

 

Queen of Cups, by Russ Sharek

 

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category: studio
03 / 19 / 2010

 

ambiphyte update

Like almost everyone I know, I'm currently suffering the ravages of a wicked head cold.

I had assumed that the combination of the "creeping crud" and the cruddy weather would make for a really difficult opening for El Corazon. Much to my surprise, a couple hundred dedicated art lovers braved the obstacles to see some amazing heart-related creations last Saturday.

For my part, I spent the evening in a medicated blur. Mostly, I smiled like a vacant spokes-model and politely avoided shaking hands with the uninfected.

Amidst my haze, I did manage to bump into a number of old friends. It was wonderful to get a chance to reconnect with people I lost in the shuffle of the previous decade ending.

To those I may have missed by leaving early, consider yourselves lucky for being exposed only to my art.

During my recovery, I managed to prop myself upright at my desk long enough to upload Ambiphyte, my entry for the show, to my illustration portfolio.

I'm also trying something new, by offering a special "sweetheart print" of Ambiphyte during the run of the show. This is not a photographic reproduction, but rather a higher-quality unframed giclée print at an affordable 11x14 size. The prints are $60 each, which you can order by contacting me at the studio.

I'll be there drinking hot toddies until the plague ends.

 

Ambiphyte - Russ Sharek, 2010

 

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category: studio
02 / 11 / 2010

 

opening the conversation

Some artists are now sharing their process on a daily basis, creating a much more active feedback loop with their audience. Former receivers of completed artistic output are now often participants in the creative process in terms of how they influence the work. So, while many artists still control the content, none of them control the conversation around it.

KERA's Art&Seek Blog

A good friend, and fellow creative collaborator, recently pointed me towards this article from the KERA arts blog. It's about, in part, the changing way we interact with artists thanks to modern technology. I think it's a worthy read for any modern artist, or those interested in their process.

Like a lot of creative professionals (read, artsy weirdos who eat because of it), I've been spending a lot of time pondering the question of how to foster a more open attitude towards both my work and how I go about making it.

Times have definitely changed, and that era wherein an artist dramatically locks themselves in a cave in order to create seems to be dwindling to a quiet close. Now the answer seems to involve getting out there and collaborating, or at least not being a stick in the mud about it happening around you.

The truth is I've been working with other creative people for years. The lion's share of my work is commissioned by people who need a talented collaborator to swing the odd hammer, stylus or torch on their behalf. In the end, I'm just helping their creative process along, despite my getting to take credit for the lot.

Due to the complex and fidgety nature of the Mitsuro technique, I tend to work in batches of pieces. In a perfect world I'd expound upon this being an iterative process, wherein I circle ever-closer to the pure heart of a concept.

The truth is it's probably closer in spirit to emptying a loaded shotgun while blindfolded in the direction of a fleeing mouse. While the actual output may be scattered, the effect is always dramatic enough to impress bystanders. What's more, I often get lucky and kill me some rodent in the process.

Russ Sharek

Whereas I have traditionally limited sharing works-in-progress with those involved in the process, it seems that the brave new world now recommends inviting a few hundred million artistically-leaning internet addicts to the conversation.

I must admit that thinking conjures up the mental image of lolcats and other internet phenomenon lurking about my workshop.

While waiting on the exterminators to come and spray for stray memes, I had chat with one of my more artistically-minded clients about this whole "open studio" concept. She loved the idea of getting people excited about process, and suggested that I post some of the work-in-progress images I had recently sent her way to get the ball rolling.

Of course, what you're about to see is not actually her project. That piece is slated to be a surprise gift for a friend, so I've agreed to leave it off my site for the moment. Instead, here's a sampling of wax models which were a part of the "shotgun effect" of working towards the exact piece she dreamed up.

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

copyright: The Morpheus Company, 2010

 

Now, a couple of quick points about process. First and foremost, I'm a terrible photographer. I did my best to make these decipherable, but I'm destined to leave the creation of good looking photographs to the professionals.

Secondly, these are just wax models at this point. Try to think of them as "jewelry sketches", and realize they will likely change a bit along the way to becoming finished pieces.

Thirdly, if you have an opinion about these pieces, now is the time to speak up. Once these pieces move to the casting stage, there's really no turning back. If one of these pieces is "almost perfect" and you know what it needs, I invite you to contact me at the studio and get involved in the process.

 

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category: studio
01 / 29 / 2010

 

mocking picasso

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers."

Pablo Picasso

Now normally I am not one to argue with one of the most recognized names in modern art history. Truth be told, old Pab' and I see eye to eye on lots of things. I like his goal of maintaining a childhood sense of wonder. I think his views on inspiration and truth are spot on...and we share a love of wine and beautiful women that borders the obsessive.

That said, I think his take on technology was crap.

Picasso was, to be completely fair, dead before the beginning of the information age. I was born during the dawn of the digital era, and before I reached adulthood computers had become a ubiquitous part of my existence.

Where he saw a clunky calculation engine, I was raised to view these magical machines as virtual workbenches on which to pound my ideas into being. Perhaps it is my background as a metalsmith that informed that mental image, but I quickly learned that this was another set of tools with which I could create.

And so, like any child, I did.

For the last five years, I've been quietly putting time and energy into exploring technology as an artistic medium in its own right.

Prior to this new focus, computers were relegated to being little more than another design tool in my existing jewelry making arsenal. While using the "magic pen" to improve my existing work has been a wonderful advantage, it does very little to support my disagreement with the aforementioned dead Spaniard.

In order to prove my theory that technology was emerging as a new form of creative expression, I was going to have to take a risk. I had to get outside my comfort zones and create something that wasn't automatically validated by being inextricably linked to my nearly twenty years experience as a sculptor.

And so, like any fool trying to prove a point, I did.

Flashing forward to about a month ago, I was having a conversation with an artist friend of mine. She encouraged me to submit a few of these new experiments to a brand new emerging artists' exhibition, hosted by a fairly prestigious gallery here in Dallas.

We both came to conclusion that in order to get the output of the "magic pen" validated on its own artistic merits, I needed to get the work to some place where it could seen by people with the capacity to acknowledge it.

And so, with a little help from Lady Luck, I did.

Not long ago, I was formally invited to participate in F.I.G. gallery's emerging artist event, the D Art Slam. The life-alteringly awesome news is that I will not be presenting my work as a jeweler. After five years of preparation, I'm proud to announce I'll be showing my first collection of digital illustrations.

Which should, once and for all, prove that Picasso had no idea what he was talking about.

 

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category: studio
05 / 18 / 2009

 

night and day

A career of late nights in the studio has permanently shaped my habits. It's taught me to enjoy the benefits of being a little out of sync with the rhythms of the world.

For the most part, I've befriended the lingering solitude that lives in the shadowy corners of my workshop. Rather than chipping away at my resolve, that ever-quiet companion now brings a meditative focus to my work.

I've always savored that touch of altered awareness that comes with disconnecting from the daily grind. So long as I always return from howling at the moon, I see no real harm in enjoying the creative benefits of a little sanctioned madness.

There's also something to be said for ambiance. The darkness looming outside the window, when combined with the right soundtrack, brings an inescapably cool film noir aesthetic to my "night shift" experience.

That said, people seldom find it shocking to hear that I work regularly into the wee hours. Doubly so in the days leading up to a showing of my work. What actually does seem to surprise folks is the fact that I'm not an exclusively nocturnal creature.

Which is patently ridiculous.

Were the staunch advocates of my mythological status correct, someone would have staked me out of their misery long before now. More importantly, I'd burst inconveniently into flames every time my PDA listed a to-do item with a requirement that I scurry about in the harsh light of ol' Sol.

As fortune would have it, my only Nosferatu-esque habit is sucking the precious vital essences from innocent coffee beans. And they had it coming.

In short, after a mug of french-pressed life force, the afternoon found me decidedly not on fire as I popped by the Bath House Cultural Center to pick up some extra invitations for the upcoming Winter Art Mart.

As I walked in the door without so much as a smolder, I was not greeted by the curator and manager of the facility. That being because they were both head down in the somewhat frantic task of last-minute preparations for the show.

Despite my standing within five feet of them, their focus on getting this event right was so intense that even if I had been on fire they might not have noticed.

Eventually, I did get their attention. In a flash it was business as usual. Which was nice, considering that up there the usual business is a bit like visiting family members you actually like.

But in those seconds before my stage cough, I saw a glimmer of something. Something more than a couple of people just doing their jobs.

It was a touch of madness that bordered on dedication, or perhaps vice versa. They had that quasi-magical focus that I've only experienced late at night. The kind that shuts out the world and helps sort the impossible into tidy piles marked "done".

That it lacked a soundtrack and stars was a small matter. For a brief moment, by the light of the afternoon sun, I recognized them clearly.

It seems I had met the day shift.

 

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category: studio
11 / 19 / 2008

 

three foot marathons

"Time, motion and wine cause sleep."

Ovid

As is often the nightly ritual during the weeks leading up to my releasing a new body of work, it is now "Ugh" in the morning and I've only just stumbled exhaustedly out of the studio.

After scraping a thick layer of jewelry polish and metal grindings off my skin, I've poured a nice glass of wine and collapsed into my favorite overstuffed "evil mastermind" chair.

The Cabernet Sauvignon waiting for me, beyond possessing the expected heart-healthy effects, will be playing the incidental role of celebratory nightcap.

Of course, I fully understand that you can't have a victory dance, even one as pathetic as my lying here in a somnolent heap, without a win to celebrate.

Tonight, it's the completion of a marathon about 36 inches long.

Roughly speaking, the distance from one side of my workbench to the other.

Back in my apprenticing days, I picked up an organizational habit from my mentor. In order to keep track of large numbers of projects, he would place all of the pieces he was working on in a pile on the left side of his workbench. Then, without looking, he would choose a piece from the pile, perform a single step in his process and shift the piece to a pile on his right. Then, he'd reverse the process, methodically moving each piece back to his left as he inspected his work.

Left-to-right, do. Right-to-left, check.

It never seemed to matter how large the piles were, or how many times the pieces made the pilgrimage across his workspace. At a glance he knew exactly where things stood, and that whenever everything "crossed the bench" for the last time the work would be done.

In my case, the habit has become a calming meditation. I sit at my workbench, I take a deep breath and I give in to the simple rhythm of moving the pieces from left-to-right, and right-to-left.

Along the way, magic happens. The panic-laden, deadline-stricken, never-ending pile of impossibilities slowly disappears.

Left-to-right,

The impossible becomes possible.

Right-to-left,

The possible becomes beautiful.

Tonight, as the hours whipped by, I ran a bunch of excellent three foot marathons. What began the evening as a large pile of completely raw castings now look suspiciously like the beginnings of fine jewelry.

I'll still be "crossing the bench" for another week or two. Soon after, I'll have some amazing new things to show for the journey.

 

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category: studio
10 / 23 / 2008

 

the yellow stuff revealed

Silicon Bronze

If you've been reading along, you'll remember that a while back I announced a bit of exciting new alchemy exploding in my studio. My inner mad scientist had been running amuck, and plans to transmute a pile of "new yellow stuff" into works of art was already underway.

Those who were able to drop by The Bath House Cultural Center's Spring Art Mart have already gotten an in-person sneak preview of the secret ingredient in my new work: Silicon Bronze.

In case all of this is news to you, you're still in luck. My good friend, who happens to be a fantastic photographer, offered to collaborate with me on a post-release photo shoot.

In addition to the lovely 'teaser' image above, 'Captain Smashy' has populated the Mitsuro section of my portfolio with a set of amazing photographs.

works in the new silicon bronze:

works in sterling silver and karat gold:

I've snuck a few notes about working with bronze into the descriptions of the new pieces. Speaking of which, as of the time of this posting, these specific pieces are still available. If you'd like to see one in person, please get in touch.

 

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category: studio
05 / 10 / 2008

 

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