Bespoke and personal Headstones
For those of you who wish to consider making a headstone, here is a useful description of how a headstone commission was built recently. It involved making a tinfoil core and sequentially coating it's various details over time with Pal Tiya Premium (PTP).
All cemeteries have a series of rules and regulations. Discover them before any work is done. These rules establish the correct dimensions, materials, wording, location, permits and aesthetic considerations for each cemetery. Be prepared to make a bronze plaque with the individuals name and information on it. Some cemeteries won't accept cementitious headstones unless the writing is in metal.
To Begin: Make many pencil sketches to design and rapidly experiment with ideas. Once a good design is established, move on to 6 inch Plasticine models before committing to the larger work.
It is important to know the final sculpture is done slowly and carefully over many weeks with different layers of PTP. When making a private commission, it will always pay not to hurry. The PTP will laminate all together so the different areas can be accomplished in a carefully planned sequence. This is to avoid going back to completed work to correct mistakes
Initial sculpting: A great deal of tinfoil was used to bulk out the full dimensions of the headstone. At this time the open book was sculpted as part of the base and the position of the bronze plaques determined. These plaques could only be made after the headstone was complete. The bronze had to be warped by the foundry to fit the complex curved surface of the pages.
The plump cat and slender dragon were made separately, to be added on last. Both figures needed to be ultimately solid PTP for strength. We made tinfoil figures of each and arranged their position on the base. This assured the composition would work.
The base and book tinfoil was crushed slightly to accommodate a 1 inch think skin of PTP. This includes the under-surface where a hole, 2 inches wide and two inches deep, had to be left. This hole is needed to connect the headstone to it's location at the cemetery.
Applying Pal Tiya Premium: The underside was coated to its full 1 inch depth and placed on a mounting board, before doing the sides.
Later, a coat of 1/2 inch thick was spread over the entire upper surface and raked. This locks down the surface so all additional work is done on a strong platform.
When this was cured, another second coat detailing the stone textured back and front surfaces was completed, except the area for the cat and dragon figures. This was left raked. The book was done in two shifts, the right and left sides separately, so we could concentrate on the accuracy of the smooth pages. Blank inset spaces were left for the bronze plaques. When the book hardened, the blank inset spaces were covered with a tinfoil separation coat and filled with PTP to level with the pages. These became the patterns for the bronze foundry to create accurately fitting plaques.
Once the book/base was completed, the animal figures could be added. The cat and dragon foil cores were coated with just enough material to cover them, but not bring the surfaces to their full depth. These shell coats were raked heavily. It is important to leave room for detail. Once the shells were cured, a coat of PTP was applied to sculpt in the final fur and muscle textures
When their sculpted surfaces were hard, the cores of tinfoil were removed. To connect them strongly to the base and book, back-fill the figures solid and fixed them to the remaining raked area. The dragon went on first and the cat second. All remaining seams were tidied up.
Curing and Finish: The whole sculpture was allowed to cure for three weeks under wet towels. The patterns were sent to the foundry and the bronze plaques cast, cleaned, then shipped to the studio and installed.
Two coats of sealant were added to give the piece a final glossy appearance.
As you can tell, a project of this complexity can be done best slowly, over time. This is important! When the proper care is given to each component, the artist can be proud of their work. The results will be worth the effort.