After looking around Wat Salak Phet I started asking the people still working there painting the sculptures, when the sculptor was coming back, and if I could help when he does. Everyone said he left in a hurry for another job, and no one really knows when/if he is coming back. Too bad, I really wanted to know more about the process. Although I can deduce a little bit about how the sculpture is made, that still tells me nothing about what kind of cement mixture he is using, or about any kind of prep work you need to do to the surface before applying the ornaments. I don’t even know how long you leave the cement in the plaster mold before the cement completely adheres to it! I’m sure there is plenty of steps I am missing, and the only way to know is to see it done.
When I was asking around about the sculptor I had photos of my work with me, and the head monk of the temple came over to take a look. He was impressed and said I could make a sculpture for the temple if I wanted to, and they would provide the supplies! Since Koh Chang means ‘elephant island’ I suggested making an elephant. The monk showed me a patch of grass where I could make a large sculpture, which was nice, but I didn’t want to get in over my head.
First I needed some clay so I could make a few quick studies, or maquettes. I asked one of the painters, Phoom, who spoke english, if he knew where I could get clay. He said yes, and that I could come back the next day to go with him to pick up some clay. The next day, he took me to a ditch further down the road and sure enough, there was clay there with rocks and roots and all! I could tell it was nice white clay, and it was going to take some work, but it was free–and I can go back for more any time I like.
So it took a full week just to dry out the clay, crush it up, take out the big rocks and roots, and let it sit in water for a night. There were still too many little rocks in the clay, so I had to filter it a second time with a finer screen. Now I have a pretty good amount of clay, but it is still slip (clay in liquid form).
I managed to dry enough in the sun to make a maquette. Here it is:
Here I am working on the maquette, with the head monk, Pa Ahjahn.
and it took another two weeks before I could get a ride to the mainland to buy some plaster for a plaster table for drying out wet clay. Now I have the plaster table, and some old plaster molds I found in the inner temple courtyard but they still need to dry out before proper use.
The lack of readily usable clay doesn’t prevent me from getting started on the larger elephant model. The temple has plenty of extra steel rod lying around, and there is a workshop down the road with a welding machine. The workshop I went to is used mainly for boat repair.
Plenty of space to weld an elephant armature! First time I’ve welded without gloves, and in flip flops!
Next, I applied drywall plaster to the armature. Now all I have to do is wedge out a lot of clay…