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Baby Steps

2014 August 1
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by Sebastian

Obviously, as a kind of extension of the Soft Step Series, I wanted to make a sort of mini-stoop that would be more appropriate for my (then) one year old son. He loves to stoop with us, but his feet dangle uncomfortably off the full size stair steps. To be fair, at almost two years old now, he has probably already outgrown the scale of this piece . . .

I thought is doing this when I saw how taken he with a child-size recliner at a house we stayed at on vacation. Why not make a child-size stoop? Ultimately, we got him his own child-size recliner, chocolate faux-leather. The treads and cheek walls of this piece are made from salvaged pieces of stone from our neighborhood, and the seams and polished finished are based on his little chair.

Salvaged Marble Stoops: Now Permanent Game Tables

2014 July 1
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by Sebastian
Sebastian Martorana

Link to the Baltimore Sun’s article about this piece by Meredith Cohn. Photo Credit: Al Drago

This public art piece is part of the redevelopment project in the Barclay neighborhood. I was contacted by the sculpture department at MICA who was asked by the developer, Telesis Corp, to assist with reincorporating the salvaged marble stoops from the neighborhood back into the project in an artistic way.  Primary in my thought process was allowing this new neighborhood to have a physical and psychological connection to its historic past. These stair treads are once again acting as a location for communal gathering for people of all ages and backgrounds. The placement of the stone was planned as to allow, for the tallest likely person, while still being usable for the shortest, keeping children in mind. The material and the fact that the checkered game surface is etched directly into the face of the stone means that they are permanent. (you can see pictures of the process below) 

Though the timeline did not allow for the most complex of sculptural concepts or structures here, sometimes simple is beautiful. I am very excited to have been able to incorporate this piece of Baltimore’s past  into a project for its future. I have larger and more intricate ideas for art to be included in the next phase of this development, which will include another larger adjacent park. However, I am very pleased that this piece has been positively received by the community so far.  I hope that it will continue to be the kind of art piece that serves the aesthetic, cultural and functional needs of the community, becoming a destination that the neighborhood can be proud of.

They are located on Worsley St, between, Barclay St and Greenmount Ave.

2014 American Craft Council Baltimore Show

2014 February 18
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by Sebastian

This week I will be speaking at the 2014 American Craft Council Baltimore Show as part of their Conversation Corner Series.

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Many thanks to my son, Gian Carlo, for standing in as my younger-self.

Full event info on my Facebook Page for the Friday and Sunday talks.

More New Construction . . .

2014 January 8
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New Conastruction: Brick Step

Ever since I showed the first “New Construction” piece (the cinder block), people have been telling me: “You should carve a brick! You should carve a brick!”

People are always telling me what I should carve and sometimes they are right. But in this case, honestly–that didn’t sound very interesting. Conceptually it made sense; bricks are another modern material being used to replace what once would have been marble. I am always saddened when I see a set of bricks slapped up where stone steps once existed stoops (particularly those new smooth and perfect bricks that lack any of the charm of the aged and irregular bricks that new-old-homeowners are always exposing). And, more often than not, the bricks aren’t even laid well! And, one or two steps on the outer edges are usually missing or have been re-set at one time or another.

Yet still, “a brick” was still not interesting enough to compel me to just carve one out of stone . . .  Then I remembered something that one of my grad school professors , Ming Fay, said during a group crit: “If you are going to do something simple–do a lot of it.”

It then occurred to me that unlike a cinder block, a single brick is not very structurally or sculpturally dynamic, but like a cinder block they are meant to be used in concert. So I decided to just illustrate the thing that I was hoping to speak against: a step made of bricks that was once a step of marble.

This proved to be quite a challenge. On one hand this is one of the rawest sculptures that I’ve ever done; the broken edge and the un-finished, roughly tooled interior sides were left un-re-carved. On the other hand, because I was trying to represent a series of nearly perfect and identical objects assembled together imperfectly, the piece was extremely technically demanding. I spent a lot of time removing very small amounts of stone to make sure that right angles were actually right angles. Add to that the fact that this particular stone had a wide vein of some of the hardest minerals present in nature. You can see the sparks fly here– literally.

It would have actually been far easier to carve a series of bricks that were aligned perfectly rather than a series of bricks that are slightly out of kilter. This is definitely the kind of piece that owes credit to my trainers at Manassas Granite & Marble, Inc. who, during my apprenticeship, instilled the technical skills and discipline of the craft of carving that now allow me the ability to make this kind of sculptural work.

So while one carved brick would probably be pretty lame– I’m hoping that twenty-six carved bricks are not.

OK . . . we should have a talk . . .

2014 January 7
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                          .  .  .  seriously  .  .  .

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you think this looks ridiculous, right?  yeah, me too.

For years, I have been looking for a good way to balance hearing protection AND entertainment. In a noisy industrial shop, how does one listen to tunes, AND not go deaf, AND stay comfortable?

So, this may be my first Public Sevice Announcement/ Review/ How-To post, possibly my only. To anyone that doesn’t spend many hours a day doing noisy work, this may seem like a minor thing and not of not much interest. However, I thought this would actually be helpful to other artists/ craftsmen/ shop-hounds/ whatever . . . You know: awesome people. So, if you are one of those kinds of people, please read on. I wouldn’t do all of this typing and hyperlinking for nothing– you may even thank me. If not–please scroll down and enjoy the art.

But seriously, I truly wish this kind of research and info had been online, before. It would have saved me a lot of money and headaches.

In the shop where I apprenticed, pretty much everybody wore earplugs, or rarely the air-traffic-controller-looking-ear-muffs from the 1980s . . . In my opinion all apprentices should wear earplugs. They protect the inner ear from damage and still allow you to hear the speech of others in direct contact with you, while not allowing for needless distractions (which young trainees do not need more of). They should be listening to their elders, not rocking out. However, since leaving my apprenticeship I have searched for ways to add a little sound to my day.

I tried using standard headphones (left) over top of earplugs. I could still hear music, probably mostly through my skull, but this didn’t do too well for spoken word, so radio and books were mostly out if I was working on anything loud. This also meant that I was running the phones at full blast so the noise bleed was pretty noticeable to others. No big deal as a MICA grad student, but I’m pretty sure that rest of the fellas in the professional stone shop that now houses my studio are not t0o into hearing my cousin’s hardcore punk band . . .   (all respect to my Cousin Charlie and his band)

After grad school, my loving wife got me a set of Bose head phones, though not the electronic noise-cancelling ones (those don’t actually “cancel” noise anyway–don’t believe the hype). But the Bose weren’t up to the challenge. After abusing Bose’s very generous Guarentee Policy to the tune of 5 new sets of headphones . . . they cut me off. Fair enough. I also tried an expensive set of Senheiser head phones, but these didn’t fit snug enough and were clearly not made for industrial use– maybe fine if I was “DJ Sebby-Sea-bass,” but I’m not . . .   So on a whim, while working on a very well paying project, I sprung for a set of 3M Tekk Protection Personal Safety Digital Work Tunes Hearing Protector with AM/FM Stereo. And for years, thats what I used.

3M Tekk Protection Personal Safety Digital Work Tunes

For awhile they were pretty good. However, despite being “work” headphones, the electronic components were not up to the task. I replaced three pairs of these over about 5 years at about $50 a pop. The light-weight, double-male, 3.5mm jack cord that came included would always fray and break quickly. That could be replaced with a better one for about $5. However, one of the nicer features, the built in AM/FM radio, would also eventually succumb to the dusty environment. I could still use whatever was plugged into the main jack, however, usually in short order the jack port and/or the speakers would go bad. At that point all of the space for the electronics and batteries is completely useless bulk. After the radio system and speakers crapped out on my 3rd set, I decided to stop replacing them and instead I inserted a set of ear buds. This required popping out the ear pads and drilling a small hole and slot so I could put ear buds in the place of the old speakers, which I also drilled out. This worked fine for a time. The iPhone ear  buds could just be popped out and replaced if they blew. This is still a expensive solution, but lacking a better option, that’s what I did.

Since I might spend between 8 and 14 hours a day in these things, I figured the cost was worth it. But the drawbacks were getting to me. As a stone carver, the position of my body, particularly during high intensity roughing out, is a asymmetrical to the block, with my shoulders raised and my left arm/chisel hand raised. The shear bulk of the Work Tunes meant that they would contact my neck and shoulders uncomfortably, which get sore anyway. When I would step back and stretch and roll my neck it was particularly annoying. I tried flipping the ear cups upside-down, so that the widest part was farther away from my shoulders, but still they were very awkward at 3-4 inches wide.

So when the vinyl ear pads started to crack, that was the final straw. I had to find another option. No matter what it cost–it would be a legitimate business expense for Atlantic Custom Carving. So I asked my brother in law who does a fair bit of target shooting what he used. He put me on to the Earplugstore.com. We first looked at a lot of Electronic Ear Muffs, which seemed fine. The prices ranged from $25-$200, which was fine, but they were offering a lot more than I needed. Though I liked the fact that they were designed to be slim and tight fitting, particularly around the shoulders, they are designed to allow you to hear or even enhance normal lower range noises, while blocking out the loud stuff (something that would be of course great while hunting). Many came with built in cable jacks, but I know those to go bad. The fact that they had external microphones meant that there was just another place for dust to get in and frankly, while working, I don’t want to hear any external at all. So I started looking at the plain Headband Style Earmuffs. I really didn’t realized the dearth of options there were out there. Ultimately, I decided (from the look of it) that Bilsom Leightning line of ear muffs were the most durable, compact, comfortable and low profile. When I realized how inexpensive they were, compared to what I had been buying . . . I went a little crazy . . .

Bilsom Leightning L0F Folding Ear Muffs (NRR 23)

L0F (Folding Headband)

Bilsom Leightning L1 HeadBand Model Ear Muffs (NRR 25)

L1 (Headband)

The Bilsom Leightning line comes in two styles (over head and neck band) in a variety of Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR). What I realized was that the slimmest, most compact headphone they offered had a better NRR(23) than my current far bulkier head phones(22), and at a fraction of the price!

So I got the Bilsom Leightning L0F. (left) I also got the heavier duty L1 model(right), because they were only $9, and appeared and were still described as “slim,” with a NRR of 25. There are heavier duty versions, L2 (NRR27) and L3(NRR30), but they get pretty bulky.

 

 

Bilsom Leightning L0N NeckBand Model Ear Muffs (NRR 22)

Bilsom Leightning L0N (Neckband)

Then . . . I got to thinking that it would be nice to have a set of ear muffs that would work for those situations where I couldn’t easily wear the over-head-band ones. So I got the Bilsom Leightning L0N neck-band model(left), which would work in situations where I was wearing a sandblasting-hood, face-shield, welding mask, or hard had. And at only $9, why not?

no more soggy ears!

no more soggy ears!

Also, I discovered a little solution to a problem that I have been annoyed with for years: sweaty ears–gross. Cool II Ear Muff Pads! I am fortunate enough to have a very well heated studio, but there is no AC of course so during the summer– it’s HOT. The non-breathable vinyl of my other headphones would make my ears and head slippery and just disgusting feeling. I had tried a few things to absorb sweat, but had found nothing better than continuing to wear a light wight cap. These little numbers self-adhear right to the ear pads. Awesome!

 

So when my order showed up (all for about the same cost as one set of the Work Tunes) everything was actually better than expected. I was impressed with the quality of the construction. I haven’t seen how they perform over time, but there really isn’t much to break because I got models that did have all of the extras that go bad so fast. The sleakness and subtley of the L0F set was kind of shocking–after years of being in ear muffs that were bright yellow made my head look like Stewie’s from Family Guy. I was happy to see that the interior of the headband and the ear cup pads were soft and lined with two different kinds of a sort of faux-leather that was way more supple and comfortable than the hard vinyl of the Work Tunes. The quality of the head bands was actually pretty shocking. They were both very sturdy, but in addition to the leather-ish padding, they are covered in a black neopren-like material on top and trimmed out with thick black nylon–impressive. To be honest though the neoprene is nice, I could have done without the “neoprene” material–only because I anticipate it sucking up a lot of dust over time (stone carver-issue . . .)

Actually, only real issue I had was with the headband of the slimmer L0F. This model is made to fold in on itself so that is packs up really tight. The problem here is that this makes the head band itself longer than it needs to be and so if I have the ear cups adjusted all the way up and in they hit the wire bars that hold them from the sides and won’t pivot independently. The L1′s band is made from what seems to be two strong metal wires, rather that a thin, but wide band. Maybe I have a small head, I don’t know, so if someone had them let out more this probably would’t be a problem. But it was an easy fix. The headband from the L1 model (non-folding) is shorter so, since the plastic ear cup can pop in and out of the retention arms, I just popped them into the other headband and they were a perfect fit! This made the L0F headband kind of useless for me, but if you have a bigger/longer head it might not be an issue at all. And for such a low price, a minor issue. The noise damping is just as good as the old and while they don’t feel “not there,” they feel more like wearing a hat than safety equipment.

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thin elastic strap fits under hardhat or other equipment and keeps ear cups from sliding down

The behind the neck L0N is great and has a very thin, but removable, over head strap to help keep in place, while the compression is provided by the metal bands. I find the over-head-band of the L0F to be tighter and more comfortable, so probably will only use these guys when other protective equipment warrants it, but I’m glad to have them around. And at only about $10– why not?

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As far as giving these guys sound there are simple and really cheap ear buds–from Earplugstore.com for less than $3, but for just a few more bucks on Amazon you can find Apple-style ear buds with the voice mic and inline volume control. This way when I receive a phone call in the shop, assuming I’m plugged into my iPhone, I can just switch the cords to the front of my head and answer, so I hear the caller through my insulated ear muffs without all of the ambient shop-noise and the caller hears me through the inline mic that has a limited reception range. Easy and hands free. Also these kind of ear buds have the slim 3.5mm jack that fits most industrial iPhone cases without needing an adaptor. Use a Lifeproof case, which is fine, but the threaded jack port is a pain. Also you can order the ear buds in Black, as opposed to the Apple-Bright-White, which look funny coming out of black earmuffs and their rubberized finish picks up shop-schmaltz quickly and so they end up looking gross really fast.

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right-side ear cup with ear cup pad removed and left-side ear bud taped in place

Turns out that inserting the earbuds themselves into the ear cups, is way easier than expected. The ear cup pads just snap right out. Position the earbuds inside the ear cups in a direction that points the speakers towards your ear canals. I found it helpful to swap the right and left buds for this purpose. Just secure with a little piece of electrical tape and put the ear cup pad back in. Boom! Done. If (when) they fray or blow a speaker I can just pop in a new set for a few bucks.

L1

Bilsom Leightning L1

So, bottom line is: I’m super stoked to have new ear protection that is more comfortable, effective, and durable, while less expensive and ridiculous looking. While for me, I really wanted the tighter model, so swapping out the headband on the  L0 model made the difference,  for anyone that doesn’t mind a little bit of bulk, the L1 model (—>) is probably a good all around choice. I’ll probably use both at some point, especially if I have to do something with some really loud equipment. My suggestion to purchase, for someone that wants to cover low-profile, comfort and versatility, would be: get the slimmer L0N  (neckband model), because they are less expensive than the L0F headband version (I think becasue the L0″F”s are made to be foldable), and the still slim but heavier duty L1 head band model. This way you get the (in my opinion) nicer, tighter headband and you can swap the ear cups between the two different styles of bands depending on what you are doing and how loud it is. And of course a couple of sets of ear buds. And, boom! You’re set! All for less than about $50.

 

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3M Tekk Work Tunes

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Bilsom Leightning L0

I know that I am glad to have less of . . .

 

   <– this

and more of

this –>

 

!   !   !

 

 

Love/Hate: A Rocky Relationship with Local Stone

2013 December 19
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by Sebastian

Sparks fly in the Corner Studio

Like many Baltimore Residents, I enjoy a some-time-love-hate relationship with the city I call home. Truly, it is far more love than hate. However, it is fair to say that this is a lovely and charming place—though a little rough around the edges. It has a bit of grit. Which is fine.

Baltimore’s marble is no exception. I have discussed the uniqueness, scarcity, historical and irreplaceable nature of the local Beaver Dam marble at length before. For a more historical look, you can read The History of the Marble Quarries in Baltimore County, Maryland, by William D. Purdam, published in 1940.

To my current point, one of the characteristics of this stone is the presence of certain mineral deposits. This can result in the beautiful “sparkly” look of the stone due to the abundance of pyrite. It can also result in large deposits of QUARTZ CRYSTALS . . . which mean trouble for guys like me.

To put it simply: quartz is HARD. Harder than even granite, whose varieties are composites of a number of dense, but desperate minerals.  Quartz is a 7 on the Mohs scale, while marbles come in at about a 3-4, granite being 5-7. So trying to carve a smooth form though a block that contains both of these densities is challenging, especially if one is trying to make flat and regular surfaces (as I am in my current sculpture). The density and bond of the crystals is such that striking it which a chisel causes actual sparks. This can be seen in the video here where I am using a rounded point to just knock down the surface of the material before working it with faster, but less powerful, pneumatic air hammers by tooth and flat chisels to achieve the final face.

Sections of quartz like this generally laugh and any straight steel modeling tools and scoff at even my carbide tips. The stone, like this city which is represents, it is at the same time, pretty and tough. As with most good things: if properly appreciated it can bear beautiful fruit—but you’ve really got to work for it.

Carve stone with me in Italy next summer!

2013 November 19
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I am very excited to be co-teaching a class this through the Maryland Institute College of Art this summer IN ITALY!  Art historian, Jenny Carson, and I developed this class to explore the historical and contemporary relationship between the “artist” and the “craftsman.”

  • WHEN: June 21 – June 14, 2014
  • WHERE: Rome, Florence, Carrara
  • WHAT: Experience both historical and contemporary studio spaces, culminating in a hands-on marble carving workshop
  • WHY: Because it will be awesome! (see full details below)
  • COST: Visit the MICA website  for pricing details

 


 

Summer Course PageITALY:  Traditional Art-Making Practices from the Renaissance to Today
JUNE 21 – JUNE 14, 2014

 

“Rome was not built in a day.” One thing all art students understand is that it takes time to create great things. Ancient Romans also referred to their home as “The Eternal City,” forever strong regardless of what other empires rise and fall.

 

Carve out your own piece of history and become part of a story that stretches back to the legendary founding of Italy’s capital. Then explore the artistic heritage of Tuscany—birthplace of the Renaissance—and end in Carrara, famous for its mountains of marble. Your life and your practice will be eternally changed.

 

This course is designed to introduce students to traditional artistic practices, such as fresco painting and stone carving, while they learn about the development and/or the evolution of the artist’s studio from the Renaissance to the present. Using canonical Italian artworks as case studies, such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling frescoes, students will learn about how art was made, usually by busy workshops, and thus have a firmer grasp of art’s cultural context. Students will also visit contemporary artists’ studios and workshops.

 

Among topics this course will explore are the changing role of the artist in society, the evolution of the studio space itself, how art theory and science influenced art production, art education, art materials and labor, and finally, how artists marketed their works.Students will document their travels in Italy through photography, video, painting, and/or drawing. Students will pay particular attention to the art of stone carving, and how sculptors organized their studios and/or labor forces, and what role technology played in this lamentably diminishing field of sculptural practice.

 

At the end of the course, students will have the opportunity to carve marble under the direction of a master carver.

 

Registration deadline: March 14, 2014.
Open to all undergraduate and graduate students—18 years or older with valid passport—who have completed one year of college.
For more information, or to inquire about scholarships, contact the School for Professional and Continuing Studies at spcs@mica.edu or 410-225-2219. 
www.mica.edu/summertravel

 

School for Professional and Continuing Studies
1300 West Mount Royal Avenue | Baltimore, MD 21217

 


FACULTY

Jenny Carson holds a PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and an MA in Art History from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She was the recipient of a Senior Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum to conduct research on 19th-century sculptor William Henry Rinehart, and is currently organizing an exhibition of his work. Carson has lectured and published extensively on artist studio practices.

Sebastian Martorana is a sculptor and illustrator who received his BFA in illustration from Syracuse University and his MFA at MICA’s Rinehart School of Sculpture. His current studio is part of the stone shop at Hilgartner Natural Stone Company in Baltimore. Martorana’s sculptural work was recently selected to be featured in “40 Under 40: Craft Futures,” the 40th Anniversary exhibition of Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

 

Winston Churchill Sculpture Base Carving

2013 October 30
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 I recently completed the carving of the base for the United States Capitol’s Winston Churchill bust, which was fabricated by Hilgartner Natural Stone Company.  The bronze bust, by sculptor Oscar Nemon, will be dedicated in a ceremony in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Click HERE for larger pictures.

 

New Construction takes BMRE Jurors’ Choice Award

2013 October 16
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by Sebastian

BMRE Awards

New Construction received the Juror’s Choice Award at the Second Biennial Maryland Juried Art Exhibit.

The show will run November 3, 2013 – January 26, 2014

Artists’ Reception  

November 17th from 3-5pm

University of Maryland University College,

3501 University Blvd E, Adelphi, MD 20783

RSVP online

 

Another Soft Step

2013 August 29
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Picture 1 of 5

Soft Step: Lil Rocker          2013          marble          8 x 13 x 30 in.

I have finally gotten the pictures together here of my second “Soft Step.”

This one, Lil’ Rocker, is based on the awesome little rocking chair in our son’s nursery. We have both spent a lot of hours in that chair feeding our little guy . . . and I noticed that, since we are both right handed, we inevitably sit on the right side of the chair, with him on the left, holding the bottle with our right hand. This has caused the cushion to take on this odd wave-like shape (though I am trying to make a point to remember to rotate it regularly).

The chair is basically dark grey, but since we knew better than to get a baby chair with out a pattern, we chose one with a kind of paisley pattern. Patterns hide stains. I felt that this pattern was really an essential part of Lil’ Rocker’s character, so trying to incorporate it subtly, as not to allow the pattern to overpower the form, presented a real challenge. But I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, and it opens up some interesting possibilities for future works.