Marion-Lea Jamieson is a printmaker, painter and sculptor from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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Currently creating art on beautiful Vancouver Island, British Columbia.


Back to Birds

In an earlier post,  On Birds, I showed progress to date on a sculpture I am working on called The Singer.  Since then, I have been carving away on the chunk of discarded styrofoam that will serve as the armature for the finished work that will probably be in concrete .  Here it is at the stage where I had finished using the big wire cutter I showed in that previous post.

“The Singer” in progress – roughly cut to shape using hot wire cutter

The first wire cutter described in that earlier post had problems so my partner Colin designed this larger cutter with a more powerful transformer. But there were further problems with this bigger, better hot-wire cutter design that I used for taking doing the rough cuts shown above.  It got too hot & the transformer died. So we bought another transformer:

New transformer for hot-wire cutter

The new transformer for hot-wire cutter design #3 is slightly more powerful than cutter design #2. But in order to keep it from overheating, it can only be used  for about 10 minutes, then it has to be shut off  to let it cool down.

Hot-wire-cutter design #3 with tension-chain


That’s why there’s a sign on the cutter saying “5 minutes on – 5 minutes off” as a reminder.  The other change to hot-wire-cutter design #3 is the addition of a spring & chain on the opposite side to the wire to maintain tension.  Without some way to maintain tension, the wire heats up, expands and cuts off a concave piece rather than a straight piece.

This is also a much smaller cutter as the wire is about 18″ long.  It is designed for more detailed carving. Cutter #2 was about 36″ long in order to cut large chunks off at a time.

After using cutter #3 for rough carving, I’m now using other tools for final shaping.   A “Sawsall” or reciprocating saw works well for some largish cuts.

“Sawsall” of reciprocating saw for cutting styrofoam


It took a while to get the hang of using this saw as it can dig in and gouge unwanted holes.  Because of its length, it is also limited in that it can only cut from certain angles. It is not as clean as the hot-wire cutter, but the smoking styrofoam created by the hot-wire is certainly a health hazard and must be blown away from the operator so it’s probably not a good idea to spend too much time hot-wire cutting.  The Sawsall does create styrofoam dust or particles that are messy and no doubt shouldn’t be inhaled.

For more detailed shaping, or where the hot-wire cutter and the Sawsall can’t reach, I’m using an electric drill with a rough sanding disk.

Electric drill with rough sanding disc for more detailed shaping

This is very effective % takes off a surprising amount of material, but it makes a horrendous mess of the studio.  Styrofoam particles become electro-statically clingy and stick on your body & clothes.  I wear a spray-apinters’ paper overall with eleasticized wrists, ankes & hood, but inside I’m still coated in particles. They get in the eyes(very painful) & nose (can’t bee good for the lungs) so a particle mask & goggles are needed and the whole get-up is hot & stuffy.

Afterwards, sweeping and vacuuming the studio can take forever, so I’ve set up the soon-to-be-world-patented extractor designed by my partner Colin Race.  He originally designed this to extract steel particles from grinding welds, and it can be hung over the grinding area and works well.  As styrofoam sinks to the floor, it is placed below wherever I am working and extracts most of what doesn’t stick on me. Here’s the extractor in all it’s elegance & beauty:Dust & particle extractor

Most artists can’t afford a manufactured extraction system, so most artists are probably suffering from the long-term effects of inhaling the nasty stuff we work with.  What this system lacks in efficiency & style it makes up for in economy.  It is basically an electric extractor fan sitting on a cart with a length of flexible ducting attached to the front of the extractor extending to the work area and another length of ducting attached to the rear of the extractor leading to the exhaust port. The ducting accordions into itself for storage.


Intake point on extractor is a plastic pail



The front or intake point of the ducting is held open by duct-taping a pail with the bottom cut out (the handle is handy for hanging the intake above the workspace.)

The exhaust port is a little painstaking to set up. There are several styrofoam insulation boards that have been glued together to create a “plug” for the bottom of the roll-up garage door. The exhaust end of the ducting is inserted into several pieces of plywood glued together for rigidity & to support the weight of the door:

Exhaust end of extractor that fits under a roll-up garage door



Here is how it looks from the outside:

External view of extractor

There’s also a piece that fits at the top of the roll-up door to block sound if I am working with very noisy machinery but it’s nit shown here.  The studio is in a residential neighbourhood and there are complaints if I make noise.  it seems to be acceptable to use leaf blowers for hours on end (I’ve watched neighbours chase one leaf down the sidewalk with a leaf blower at 75 dB) and guys seem to love using the things especially on sunny days. Many of the neighbours use lawn care companies that use  two-stroke, gas-powered weedeater or line trimmer that typically run at approximately 115 decibels, equating to the upper limit of a live rock concert (the average human pain threshold is 110 dB) and gas powered lawn mowers at about 95 decibels.  The other favourite neighbourhood activity is pressure washing.  On a hot day, it appears to be a mindless, cooling activity and it’s something people can spend a whole weekend doing despite the fact that pressure washers  emit 78 – 85 decibels.  After finishing the house, my neighbours get their driveway and sidewalks clean enough to eat off.  But no one complains about this as it must be considered part of being a scrupulous homeowner and keeping the property values up.

But making art is completely different and any noise emitting from my studio is likely to engender unbridled rage.  Especially women seem to find the sight of another woman using power tools to be unacceptably irritating.  I’ve had neighbour women screaming in my face while I’m trying to do a delicate cut with a router. Another told me what I was doing (grinding & polishing a concrete sculpture) was “unnecessary” and shouldn’t be tolerated. A little later she had her sidewalk moved to another location which involved days of deafening jack hammering.

There are no complaints about any of this activity even though the Noise Bylaw for the City of Vancouver states that: “No person shall in a quiet zone (ie residential area) make, cause or permit to be made or caused, continuous sound the sound level of which during the daytime exceeds a rating of 55 on an approved sound meter when received at a point of reception…”.  But it is very difficult to find affordable studio space in Vancouver, so to placate the outraged Philistines, I work inside with the sound muffled, sweating amid clouds of styrofoam dust.

Rear view of “The Singer” after shaping with Sawsall and sanding disc

To the right shows progress to date  on the rear of the sculpture.

I am trying to ignore a VERY loud pressure washer next door as I write this blog.


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