Richard Downs
Steel Part 3
Tracing paper design used to make all of the plywood template guides for cutting specific facial arcs.

The challenges of working in Steel present themselves in small ways every few hours and in bigger ways as I prepare to take on my first large scale steel sculpture commission. Baby steps are the best way to describe getting up to speed with materials and tools that are new to me. My big studio upgrade was a Plasma Torch and all of the other peripherals that drive it and I can honestly say that this tool is as much of an art tool as an etching press or a kiln. You don’t just go out and buy an etching press or a kiln and start pumping out master prints or fine porcelain. All of these industrial like tool/machines take time to learn how to use them and then hopefully push the machine to see what can be done with it.


The first time that I used my Plasma Torch it was like using any self taught tool and I would like to compare it to using an Exacto Knife for the first time when you were in elementary school. You don’t push an Exacto Knife and you need a guide through thicker materials or it is going to go everywhere and you might get hurt and no youtube video is going to teach you, you learn by doing. Plasma cutting is like using a Ginsu knife and it takes some time and practice to get the feel down.


Out of all of the learning on these new materials one of the biggest issues was finding somebody to work with that had a similar personality for a month long project. I am not interested in welding in any capacity so I had to find a welder and welding creates a line that connects forms and my work is all about line quality so I was very selective. I found a kid who came highly recommended and he is working out nicely and he comes to the project with his own fabrication ideas which are really helpful to me as I learn new fabrication techniques.


Here are some steel heads that I made as my welder and myself established a welding and plasma cut style to best render my composition.

My studio. The Plasma Cutter is that little box on the floor.
Using a template to cut a facial arc. This little powerhouse cuts through 1/8" plate steel like butter.
This machine performs only 1 function, cutting steel. You can rock the tip while cutting to change line quality.
What you can't see is the smile on my face. Yes, fire extinguisher and garden hose are standing by.
My full scale cardboard model for "The Family". The entire piece will be cut out of plywood to be used as templates for cutting the steel. Design is changing a bit to become more organic as my still level grows with these tools. When I designed the piece I had no idea what could be done with the shapes.
On the operating table.
Untitled Head #1. Still trying to figure out patina's.
Untitled Head #2. No patina.
A big thanks out to my friend Mark Murphy for this nice interview about my new work.
All images | Richard Downs © 2015 
Joshua Tree
Couple #306 | Monotype | 19x23.5” image area 23x28” sheet size | Oil on Japanese Paper | 2015

I love the Southern California Deserts. As a kid I camped with my parents and brothers and we hiked and rode motorcycles in designated areas. In the late 1960’s we even brought back to our home a few now endangered and almost vanished desert tortoises and kept them for years as pets and they both had nice lives because the Los Angeles climate was very similar, looking back now we shouldn’t have even picked them up but I try to tell that to my 10 year old self and he just doesn’t want to listen.


If you have never visited the Mojave Desert, Anza Borrego and especially Joshua Tree you need to get out there with plenty of water and a big hat. I had a great time making this Joshua Tree Monotype and I thought that I would include along with it some of my experimental photo etchings from these deserts that I created during my short lived interest in photography.



Couple #307 | Monotype | 19x23.5” image area 23x28” sheet size | Oil on Japanese Paper | 2015
Joshua Tree | Monotype | 12" x 15" Image Area | 2015 | Private Commission
Mount Emma Road 3 | Photographic Etching | 9" x 20" Image Area | Rives BFK Paper | 1991
October Vines | Photographic Etching | 7" x 19" Image Area | Rives BFK Paper | 1991
Pearblossom Highway | Photographic Etching | 9" x 16" Image Area | Rives BFK Paper | 1991
Wind in Cottonwoods | Photographic Etching | 8" x 19" Image Area | Rives BFK Paper | 1991
Barstow Cows | Photographic Etching | 8" x 19" Image Area | Rives BFK Paper | 1991
All images | Richard Downs © 2015 
Step up to Steel Part 2
After High School in the late 70’s I bought a used 1972 Opel GT for $900.00 and cut it all up and I flared the fenders, designed a giant air dam for the front and I took out the back side windows and put in scoop’s and built it all out of brazed sheet metal. I tried to make it look like a Dino which was and it still is my favorite car design. My original career goal was to go into transportation design or industrial design.

I finished the first phase working on a new steel sculpture commission for a family in the Bay Area which was getting my sketches approved and then making a small scale maquette and then getting familiar with fabrication technology. I have very little experience with big steel fabrication other than working in machine shops and taking a 1972 Opel GT and cutting it up and recontextualizing it's form out of High School.


I took a full month off after getting my design work approved while I finished my show for TEW Galleries which opened a few weeks ago. It was really difficult stopping a project that I had invested so much energy and design into but looking back it was a smart approach because it gave me a little distance to think about how I would approach the second phase of the project. 


During the second phase which was enlarging my drawing to a full scale model I started meeting with fabricators and other sculptors to figure out how this was all going to come together and that I could possibly contract out certain fabricated parts. What I thought would be an easy process of working with a huge pool of options turned out to be a small group. It was sad to see that the craft of steel working has been somewhat removed from society today, when I was a kid we took metal shop, families had tools, kids learned hard skills and were interested in building things. I thought that I could tap into a market of inspired artisans but only found industrial fabricators. 



So the second phase is all approved and I know how the parts are going to be built. My next phase is looking at plasma cutters and tig welders and learning how to make a lot of it myself. The 4th and final stage will be engineering the concrete pedestal and pouring it on site and then transporting all of the parts to the Bay Area for a June 2015 installation. 


I have to admit that after I wrote this and read it I got a little freaked out about how far I still have to go but then I remember that I have wanted to do this piece for 30 years, this is what I want to do and it isn't going to intimidate me, I am completely inspired and who says you can't teach an old dog, new tricks.

My original approved drawing. I used a combination of this and a grid placed over a photograph of the model to come up with my final sizes.

My maquette. This stage was so crucial and I realized something that I harp on my students all the time about. I tell them to put everything into the sketch, design every square inch before you go to the painting so nothing is left to chance. I never designed the face on the left side, I just winged an indicated head shape and it became a huge problem when I scaled up the model. I didn't really know how to solve it because it wasn't part of my original vision and inspiration if you get what I mean and this created a lot of extra thinking that should have been done on the sketch and not the cardboard stage. I will not be using Corten Steel because this will increase the materials by 70%.  The piece will be made from different thicknesses of mild plate steel. 

My model. Each square represents 1'.
Starting my full scale model. If the male figure stood up he would be over 10' tall. A big thanks out to the guys working in the warehouse of the local Sears store, they supplied me with the appliance boxes needed to make the model. I found that Kenmore dryer boxes are made from the best cardboard in the world. It is so hard it is like plywood and you can staple it.
As I started building it out I learned clever ways to mark up the back side so it could disassembled and assembled fast and accurately.
I did realize something while I was making the full scale model and I will try to equate it to the development of a painting. When you develop a painting all of the work is spent brushing away at the forms through color and value and tightening and layering and all of that painting stuff and eventually you are finished. This is a giant cardboard painting, I have designed and chiseled away at every form until it is massaged to the perfect shape and this has taken over two full weeks of work including design but none of the final art is finished. Most of the work is put into the model and then I will unclip the puzzle and stamp out all of the parts and use the cardboard parts as the template. The final sculpture will be modular and bolted together much like a steel suspension bridge. I didn't want to deal with a crane during the installation and all I drive is a Prius and each element besides the stem can fit into the back of it while I run around getting stuff fabricated. 
The final model. because it was made of cardboard the pedestals and some other structural forms needed to be bigger than the final shapes that will be fabricated out of steel to hold up the weight of the cardboard. That long stem with a head on it with look more like the original sketch and the base will include organic forms that are also in the sketch. My ultimate goal with the cardboard model is to find a patron that will fund to have it cast in bronze in the lost wax method. If that happens I want to leave all of my tape and cuts and dripping hot glue on the piece to show my process. Any wealthy patrons out there? Give me a call!
The Family. Faces need to worked out a bit more but I now can move to fabrication and those decisions can be made when I build the heads. When I started the model I was using Gorilla Tape to hold the pieces together but switched to a hot glue gun which worked great, it was just like welding it together and made it super strong.
My new studio, not quite the massive footprint size of my last studio but what you can't see is behind those lights it has a section that opens to a full 16' ceiling and storage loft which I needed to make the model and I will utilize on the final.
All images | Richard Downs © 2015 
TEW Galleries
The Actor | Braided Carbon Steel Wire | 48” x 25” x 5” | poor fellow is now in a cardboard crate on his way to Atlanta.

I am excited to be having my first solo show of 2015 on the second floor of TEW Galleries in Atlanta. While creating this show my “Couples” Series hit the 300 mark. I was surprised to see that it was 4 long years ago that the series hit 200…  those numbers worried me and got me thinking, “what have I been doing for the last 4 years?” Back in the day It took 2 years to go from 100 to 200. 


Here are some of the pieces that will be in the show. I am hoping that Atlanta will give my work some of that famous Southern hospitality.


TEW Galleries

Richard Downs

February 27 - March 27 2015

Couple #301 | © 2015 | Monotype on Japanese Paper 12x15" image size , 17x20" paper size
Figure with Arms Raised | © 2015 | Monotype on Japanese Paper 12x15" image size , 17x20" paper size
Couple #300 | © 2015 | Monotype on Japanese Paper 12x15" image size , 17x20" paper size
Date Night with the Pharaohs | 3 Plate Monotype | 19x23.5” image area 23x28” sheet size | Oil on Japanese Paper | © 2014
Couple #299 | © 2015 | Monotype on Japanese Paper 12x15" image size , 17x20" paper size
A Night Out with the Maya’s | 3 Plate Monotype | 19x23.5” image area 23x28” sheet size | Oil on Japanese Paper | © 2014
Couple #298 | © 2015 | Monotype on Japanese Paper 12x15" image size , 17x20" paper size
Figure with Arms Raised | Braided Carbon Steel Wire | 36” x 19” x 6” | © 2015
The Actor | © 2015 | Monotype on Japanese Paper 12x15" image size , 17x20" paper size
Frederick Holmes and Company | 309 Occidental Avenue South, Seattle



I am happy to have a new venue for my work in historic Pioneer Square Seattle at Frederick Holmes and Company. The gallery is 2 floors with the top floor dedicated to artists of historic interest. The bottom floor mounts shows for contemporary artists. I am hoping that my new work will connect with the Seattle community. 

I am really proud of my crates and I thought that I would include them in this post. I have been shipping a lot of sculpture over the last year and it has taken that long to perfect my crate building. I use good old recycled appliance boxes that the nice guys in a Sears warehouse give to me. My crates are built like an origami folded box and I gorilla tape my sculpture to one side. When a client receives the crate they just cut a few exterior tape strips and the box unfolds. I have as much fun making the crates as I do the art. Gorilla tape is one of mankind’s greatest inventions. 

All images | Richard Downs © 2015 
Recent Articles
Links to Articles