Boatbuilding the Fish Sculptures


Boat-Building on the Stour, oil on canvas by John Constable, 1814-15

People who know me well are not surprised by my obsession with wooden boatbuilding. Though I’ve completed just one actual boat, each year I’m gripped with boat fever, especially during the winter months, when I scan plans and dream of the perfect cruise, surveying piles of timber for hints of the unformed hull. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a respectable knowledge of traditional boatbuilding, having read everything from Howard Chapelle to Phil Bolger on the subject. It doesn’t really matter that I have yet to produce the boat of my dreams- I get as much satisfaction applying my knowledge in other ways, particularly in designing and making furniture and sculpture.

fish sculpture1traced sections from my 1/4 scale fish sculpture model to be lofted up to full scale

I recently carved 1/4 scale models of our 2 fish sculptures for the Ortega Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. To loft the models to full scale, I’ve borrowed a half-hull technique familiar to boat-builders, where the hand-shaped wooden form is cut into regular sections, from which lines are drawn. Next I will loft these sections to full scale and make templates that will be sent to a steel fabricator. The steel substrate for the fish sculptures will be built on a jig very much like a boat, with longitudinal ‘stringers’ welded to the steel sections, making the final shape, to be skinned in layers: steel lath, fiberglass-reinforced gypsum/epoxy, then ceramic tile mosaic.

I’m lucky to have developed a venue for my ideas that gives me an outlet for experimentation within tradition. In my experience, innovation in craft is often the result of hybridizing tools and techniques between disciplines.

fish sculpture2

To follow the story of Abundance, our fish sculptures commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, please click here and scroll down.