Wednesday, May 14, 2014


The mechanics of my regular art creation process have to do with cutting and then bending plastic. This is very easy to do when the material is a credit card; scissors work well for cutting thin PVC and the plastic is readily bent. With larger pieces, however, both of these steps are a little more difficult. Thicker PVC requires power tools to cut. Heat must be applied to the plastic in order to make it pliable.

I've been using a jigsaw to cut the plastic. This works pretty well. I've made improvements in this area by moving to a more powerful jigsaw and by using jigsaw blades that are specific for PVC rather than general use blades that will work on plastic.

The application of heat has been problematic. In order to make the PVC bendable, the entire thickness of the plastic has to be raised above 200°F. Until now, I've been using a heat gun to heat the plastic. A heat gun is essentially a really hot hairdryer.

Heating with the heat gun is a slow process because the gun only heats a small area. In order to heat the plastic, the heat gun must be held very close to the surface; within a quarter of an inch or so. The heat gun needs to be moved constantly in order that the surface of the PVC does not char.  It takes a very long time using this technique to heat the plastic enough through the entire thickness so that the plastic becomes pliable.  Also, when using a heat gun only a small section of the plastic is pliable at a time. For larger pieces, this technique is not practical. A particular piece that I'm working on, PVC 6, is 2' x 4' and requires quite a bit of heating in order to get the shape that I am pursuing. The below photograph shows the current state of PVC 6; I have bent about 1/16 of the amount of plastic that I need to bend and I have spent about an hour and a half with the heat gun to get to this point.

At the suggestion of a friend, I have started to experiment with a forced air kerosene heater. Last evening, I tried this technique for the first time and it was a rousing success.

This photograph shows a piece that I made last week, PVC 5. This started out as a 1' x 2' x 3/8" slab of PVC. After cutting it took just under two hours over several sessions with a heat gun to bend the plastic as shown.

I apologize for the poor quality of the above photograph; immediately after this piece was produced it was selected for a juried show (details below) and I did not have the opportunity to take good photographs of it.

The below photograph shows the piece I made yesterday, PVC 7. This started from the same size slab of PVC as the above item. I heated this slab for about twenty minutes with the forced air heater after cutting. This made the entire slab pliable all at once allowing me to bend it much more easily and to introduce much nicer curves into the artwork.

I will be using a forced air heater at least for the rest of this art season (melting plastic is an outdoor activity and so my art season is April - October). The heat gun will still be part of my toolkit; it will be useful for detail work or where I just need a small application of heat.

I am showing nine pieces at the Nuance Gallery in Windsor, Vermont from May 31 through July 12. This includes four tabletop sculptures and five credit card devices. The Nuance Gallery is located at 85 Main Street in Windsor. Should you happen to find yourself in the wilderness of Central Vermont, please stop in and check out the show.

Nuance Gallery Facebook Page