New Commission: Scaling Up

A recently completed commission afforded me the opportunity to play with scale, materials and process. The client, a fine art consulting firm, wanted a larger version of a piece they had already placed in another project. I'd not "replicated" my burned paper pieces yet, thinking there was little I could do to control the effects of fire on paper and therefore produce a similar result. Let the challenge begin!

The original: Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 31. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 40 x 28 x .25 inches. ©2016.

The original: Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 31. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 40 x 28 x .25 inches. ©2016.

Earlier this year, I developed a technique to help me accurately translate my sketches to scale. It involves using oversized prints of my sketches, which I then slice into pieces and use as templates for re-drawing the layers at the correct size. It worked well for a Connecticut coastline-inspired piece, so why not use the same process using my own work as the original drawing?

Template for a project underway inspired by Frankfurt. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Template for a project underway inspired by Frankfurt. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

The approach worked nicely and helped to expedite an otherwise traditional, yet time-consuming way to scale-up using a grid system to transfer an image. But what I'm particularly pleased about is that, despite an accurate rendering of the original design, the new version is entirely unique and different from the first. There is happily still not much you can do to control the outcome when taking blowtorch to paper, or when working with materials that are 300% larger than the first time around.

Flattening rolled watercolor paper in my studio. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Flattening rolled watercolor paper in my studio. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

There are several challenges when working at a larger size, in this case 72 x 48 inches. First is workspace. My workbench isn't large enough, so I had to improvise by using the floor and a temporary workshop set up in our dining room (not ideal). The other issue is my Burning Shed, an unfinished outbuilding where I do the things that can't otherwise be done indoors (burning, spray paint, etc.). The Burning Shed was maxed out at this size, so for larger projects, I'll have to find another solution.

Materials take on a mind of their own at this size, especially paper. As much as I flattened the rolled watercolor paper, once you hit it with the blowtorch, it curls and warps as the fibers respond to the heat. I'll continue to explore solutions to this effect, or just work with it - which is what materials are teaching me anyway. 

Who doesn't like a little bling? Gilding with variegated leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Who doesn't like a little bling? Gilding with variegated leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Speaking of learning, this is the first project where I used variegated gold leaf for the gilding. Variegated leaf is a metal leaf that has been heat-treated, chemically-treated or both to develop patinas and unique discoloration. In this case, I love how the subtle coppers, blues, reds and greens add interest to veins of gold that would otherwise be too monochrome and flat for a design of this size.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 60 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 72 x 48 x .65 inches (unframed). ©2017. 

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 60 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 72 x 48 x .65 inches (unframed). ©2017. 

Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome on this project, with clear ideas on how to continue refining the work, especially at larger sizes - which I hope to do more of!