Big Blue ~ How I Made a Blue Heron Sculpture from Silverware

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I thought it would be fun to revisit a sculpture I created nearly two years ago (it’s hard to believe how time flies!). I’d like to share a little about the creation of “Big Blue”,  my up-cycled heron sculpture,  because I think the way he came to be is a pretty neat story. Maybe you will think so,  too.

The inspiration to build a heron sculpture came from this handsome guy that kept visiting our dock early in the Spring of 2016.

Blue Heron Inspiration

 We named him Big Blue (for obvious reasons) and were in awe of how big and beautiful (and blue) he was! As the days rolled on, he started to become quite territorial of his place along our shoreline and what we called, “the turf wars”, began between Blue and our dog, Otto. Otto (who is also very territorial) would run down to the dock anytime Blue would visit and chase him away barking. Fierce!  Blue would then fly to the neighbours dock where Otto couldn’t reach him (we have an invisible fence) and loudly squawk back. Also fierce!

This continued on for weeks, relentlessly.

Sometime during “the turf wars”, a customer of mine donated a teapot that was really nice (albeit not in the best shape). As I looked it over and deemed it “not wind chime worthy” it began to morph into a heron in my mind. I actually told this to my customer at which point she looked at me like, “What, WHAT??”…….to which I said, “just wait.” 😉

The idea was born and the work started promptly.

As usual, I had no idea how I was going to pull it off, but I had a teapot and a live model, so I just started. For me, starting is always the hardest part.

I commenced with the most fun part, the head, because that’s how I roll! I used spoons for the head itself and fork tines for the feathers.

Big Blue Taking Shape

Next I began experimenting with some of the larger feathers and decided to use a set that I had, called “South Seas”, by Oneida. I decided to use this pattern because I liked the shape of the handles at the ends (I thought they seemed feather-like) but also I liked the detailing on the neck (the section between the handle and the fork or bowl itself). The fact that I had a whole set of this pattern, so the feathers could be uniform, was also a plus. I began cutting and soldering each piece to the teapot. I used some rivets, too, in certain places that were too tough to solder.

First Feathers

I was lucky to find a pair of steel BBQ tools at the Orillia Restore and decided that they would make perfect legs. Quite thin, yet sturdy…… heron worthy!

Although I could have continued on with the feathers and that would have kept me busy for a long time, there was a problem that just had to be solved. It was keeping me up at night. How was I going to keep this bird upright and what was I going to use as a base?? I wanted to use something natural, that would nicely contrast with the silver and be something that a heron would likely perch itself on in the wild.

A rock it was!

My brothers are in the  landscaping business, so I took a trip to the rock lot and picked out the perfect one……not too heavy, nice shape, good colouration, etc. Next, I asked for help from my brother Jeff to drill a couple of holes for the legs. I don’t own the right kind of drill or bits for masonry work (nor will I likely ever), so I am fortunate to have a connection with someone who does (thanks, brother).

As I like to say, “Lean on your people, people”!

I epoxied some fork feet in place and I was all set to insert the legs, which I was very excited about. I did this with hydraulic cement.

Heron Feet

The brilliant thing about the teapot was that because it was hollow, I could secure the legs to the bird inconspicuously, from the inside. To do this I used hydraulic cement and a couple of disposable, plastic shot glasses. I fed the BBQ tool “legs” through a couple of holes I had drilled in the bottom of the teapot, filled the shot glasses with the cement and placed them inside the teapot covering the ends of the BBQ tools. I left the shot glasses in place overnight to allow the cement to solidify. I wish I had thought to take a photo of this!!! This part of the process was not anything I planned in advance, (nor were many other steps) but the idea came to me as I was doing the work. This is often the way it happens and I think there is a good life lesson in here, don’t you??

Big Blue From the Back

If I may go off on an appropriate tangent,  I would like to say this: Once you have a concept,  just start. You don’t need all of the details worked out in the beginning. Have faith in the process. Trust your abilities to use the tools that you have and just START.  Like life itself,  Art is really just a whole lot of problem solving. #Truth.

“Inspiration exists,  but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Okay, now back to my story.

Now that Blue was upright I could in good conscience continue along with adding more feathers, so that’s exactly what I did. I used more forks and spoons from the “South Seas” pattern and I used stainless steel knife blades for the tail feathers. Stainless is a bitch to work with! It can be soldered at high temps, but because I was also using silver plate I risked the whole bird falling apart while trying to get the stainless to stay in place. I used quite a few rivets in the tail….and I soldered where I could.

It took me many tries to get the feathers the way I wanted. In fact, I had one of the wings entirely done, went to bed for the night, woke up the next morning and took the whole thing apart. Also, the more feathers I added the smaller the head seemed in proportion to the rest. I had to rework the shrunken head to make it right, and subsequently scolded myself for starting the project with the most detailed (and arguably most important) part. Two steps forward… step back…..that’s usually the way it goes.

Silverware Blue Heron Upright

All said and done, it took about a month for me to complete Big Blue.

I didn’t work continuously on the project, but spent a lot of my studio time on it. There were some days that I just didn’t know how to proceed and had to marinade in my ideas. There were other days I became so frustrated that I would have tossed him out the window if I didn’t take a break. I was also juggling custom orders, creating other market and gallery inventory, and caring for my family and household. Such is life!

Silverware Blue Heron - FInished Feathers

Balance can be a struggle for me at times and I have to constantly remind myself that my inspiration is not going to up and leave. I mean, it ebbs and flows, but I’m learning to trust that it will never disappear completely. I think that there might be a subconscious script running in my head telling me that if I don’t finish these projects quickly, or spend every waking moment working on them, that I will never finish; that I will lose my drive or my inspiration or my stamina. I am determined to prove that script wrong for the sake of my physical health and my sanity (and my family’s sanity, as well).

Big Blue was an awesome project for me in this regard, as I’m certain all other, bigger pieces I’ve created (and will create in the future) have been (and will continue to be).

The day that I finished the sculpture, I carried him down to the water’s edge with my camera to get some photos. Believe it or not, the real Big Blue was on the dock beside us during our photo shoot. I actually tried to take a few shots of the sculpture with the dock and real bird in the background, but it just didn’t work out. So you’ll have to take my word for it. 🙂

As an aside: the entire time that I was working on this sculpture I was frequently visited by the real bird. My husband, Ben, said that I must have been sending out “heron vibes”. I would often be up in my attic studio working and peek out the window to see Big Blue hanging out on the dock. Our property is in a busy spot on Lake Muskoka, right across from a public dock and during the tourist season there is always a lot of boat traffic. Needless to say, other than the sociable ducks that people keep feeding, we do not see a lot of wildlife.

We haven’t seen the real Big Blue at our dock since the day I took this photograph.

Finished - Silverware Blue Heron

Big Blue currently lives and is for sale at Arts at the Albion Co-Operative Gallery, in Gravenhurst Ontario.

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