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Giraffe Project

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I took the coolest commission last month. A friend of mine has a beautiful solarium in her house. (It’s incredible: a two-story Bougainvillea blooms, a fountain gurgles into a pond and banks of ivy flank the walkways.) She also has lots of family connections to Africa, which of course, means she has a collection of African pieces. So she decided to gather her African collection in her solarium and the centerpiece would be . . . a 5-foot tall ivy-covered giraffe topiary form! Would I make it for her?

Yesyesyesyesyes!

How fun! So different from my usual projects (I seriously can’t think of the last giraffe topiary form I’ve made) and such a great challenge, too. But I’m not going to lie: I’m not a sculptor. Sculpting is much more complex than my usual forms. 2D, I can do. But 3D? Well, that’s a whole new dimension, isn’t it?

Before I began this project, I spent a lot of time engineering the giraffe in my head. I knew that the giraffe’s front legs would have to be sturdy enough to support a towering neck (and heads are heavy!). And I wanted long lines, not pieced parts, for structural integrity.

My first attempt looked like Picasso’s bull drawing. Using a bale of crazy-heavy wire, I tried to make a continuous outline that I would later flesh out with 18-gauge wire. Abstract and interesting, but in the end it was too difficult for me to bring to life.

So, with my first concept trashed, I casually asked my art teacher friend for his advice. He asked off-hand, “You mean, besides tubes of chicken wire?”I played it cool. Like I was really asking for a grander idea. Not just chicken wire tubes. But that was it!! Apparently chicken wire tube armatures are a Sculpting 101 basic, but I sure hadn’t thought of that.

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The chicken wire worked perfectly. I used my dressmaking skills to cut “pattern pieces” out of the chicken wire that would create 3D form and shape. And with this forgiving medium, I was able to add little nuances that gave the giraffe character. I compressed the knees a bit for knobiness and I arched the long neck so that his head is a little cocked, as if sharing a confidence. (My brothers all have this habit of inclining their head in conversation, as if they’re giving the listener their ear. A charming habit. So I gave it to the giraffe.)

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It turned out to be one of the coolest pieces I’ve ever made. And as he’s slowly covered in ivy, I’ll think he’ll look even better.