Making of the Dragon Sculpture

Our initial design concept.

Every year for The Great Blue Heron Music Festival, Nathan and I attempt to make some sort of serious art installation. Last year, we made an animatronic flying bird that turned out to be very challenging due to its mechanical complexity, so for the 2012 Festival, we decided to attempt something a little more… static.

This was actually Julie’s idea. During a spring trip up to the Heron, Julie pointed out a tree that had died on the side of Dragon Run. It needed to be chopped much lower to avoid the risk of dead limbs falling on guests, so she charged us with a task of creating a dragon sculpture on the side of the tree. The real estate was prime.

Nathan and I went through many design seeds before finally settling on a bust-only idea. We wanted to be minimize the size so we could spend more time on the finish and fine-details. This was a lesson we learned from last year’s Heron, as we spent so much time developing the mechanical attributes that we felt we could have devoted more time to the aesthetic nature of the sculpture.

Our final design was nothing more that this sketch; most of the actual curvature and shape was determined during sculpting. Nathan, much more gifted at sculpture than I, did the bulk of the artistic work for the Dragon while I figured out how to make its eyes glow and nostrils smoke.

Although basic, this was our final design.

With the use of a small fog machine attached to the back of the tree, we added a button that taunted guests with a message ‘Do Not Push This Button’, enticing them to push it causing the dragon to smoke. After experimenting with eye sockets for a while, we finally figured out the electronics and controls for the color-changing eyes.

Construction happened in my basement workshop. We chose expanded polystyrene foam for its rigidity and ability to be sanded and sculpted. Thanks to inspiration from our friend Chris Hallenstein, we decided that packing tape was the perfect surface material to enhance the smoothness, stability, and finish of the sculpture. We probably applied more than a dozen layers of packing tape, and used aluminum foil for the detailed sculpting of horns, eye ridges, and other small features.

We completed the sculpture at home and decided to do all finishing work up at Heron. This worked out well because not only were we challenged by the closing window of time at home as Heron approached, but we also wanted to avoid any risk of damage during transit. We learned from years past that the trip up to New York can be a little rough on delicate pieces of art.

Special paint glowing under blacklight.

For the paint, we used green Krylon Make It Stone!® Textured Paint, which we happened to find on sale for $2.99 a can at Michaels. We used acrylic paints for the detail work, and to finish the sculpture, we ordered Wildfire Invisible Fluorescent Paint which applied white but glowed orange at night when excited by a blacklight. Our friend Jessica Ewanic was kind enough to help do the detail painting. We arranged an array of blacklights around the sculpture and at night, we were amazed at just how much the paint seemed to glow.

Nathan and I were very excited with the reception that the Dragon received. The little kids at the festival loved the smoke and light coming out of the sculpture, and the teenagers and beyond were thrilled to ‘break the rules’ by pressing the smoke button.

We already have our basic concept together for Heron 2013, and while we will keep the design secret until we debut it, I can assure you that it will be a large departure from our animalistic creations of the past two years. This year, interactivity will be a huge component, not just a small button.

Some of the other guests were able to capture some wonderful night shots of the dragon. Thanks everyone who managed to grab a shot and upload it, Nathan and I never remembered to come photograph it at night!

Here’s a little video about how we made the Dragon:

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