Daniel Biehl's Process Images and Descriptions

As a printmaker I became accustomed long ago to overcoming problems before they occur by the experience of failures. In this sense, a process may involve working within the limitations of a given medium, installation site or other variable sets of conditions. Printmaking in this way became for me a template for approaching other tasks in life; any job or project I have ever undertaken I learn to approach systematically. Though some jobs are impossible by nature and can't be satisfactorily completed due to their given demands, one can still try their best. I prefer to work within parameters which will allow success at the extreme limits of possibility, and though there are bound to be failures along the way it is gratifying to create the conditions under which no single flop will harm the overall outcome of the project as a whole.

This page does not contain printmaking process descrptions, since there is as yet no photographic documentation of of those steps.

Image of Biehl carving slate bas-relief with hand chisel.

Carving slate in Cincinnati studio, 1989

For several years I was carving bas-relief into slate blackboards
which had been torn out of the public schools. The process
had been inspired by stone lithography, and the sense
of delving into the sedimented layers of geologic time.
Having been traveling and without a press for some time,
this was my relief for that perceived need.

photo by Deborah Gaffaney ©1989

Valentine doll details, 1989

These are just detail images of the piece but I thought I could mention a few things. The wood is pear, with ivory and ebony eyes. The articulated joints of the neck, elbows, knees and ankles are ball joints joined with wooden pins; the shoulders and hips rotate on smooth facets.

Much of the excavation in carving this piece were done with a dremel tool, finished with a lot of little strips of resin backed sandpaper. You may be able to make out the brain which rattles around like a dried nut, and the heart, which is stained with my blood, purposefully, like all of my work from that era.

Image of perforated wooden doll with arms raised. Image of perforated wooden doll's head. Back of perforated wooden doll's head. Seated doll.

Assembly of Vessel for Small Dreams over bending form, 1990

I obsessed for many years over canoes and canoeing, never actually building a functional wood and canvas canoe, but contemplating the structural similarities of boats to the vertebrate pattern and their spiritual significance as bearers of living beings. The process of this piece grew out of a plethora of such synthesized concepts. I was steam bending the ash gunwales and keel and the maple ribs, fastening the pieces together with cord in imitation of the highly developed Inuit technology of kayak and umiak buiding.

Image of oddly shaped wooden boat form. Image of oddly shaped wooden boat form in use.Another image of oddly shaped wooden boat 
form in use.

Framework and skinning of Flying Boat, 1994

This vessel and its paddles were made of ash, steam bent over makeshift forms. As in theVessel for Small Dreams, the framework was assembled and the rawhide skin attached with lashings. This method of connecting one piece of wood to another is ancient, nearly as old as homo sapiens, perhaps older still. It allows flexibility without failure and with repeated wrappings holds the work together very tightly. Boats The rawhide exerts a huge amount of pressure ait dries and shrinks, and even still this piece creaks with changes in the weather. The lashing used was artificial sinew, a waxed nylon fiber that is incredibly strong. The photos show the material directly after it was sewn on, before it dried to transparency.

You can see the structure of the double-helical airfoils, and the nesting hoops of the wooden u-joints connecting the paddles to the hull's frame.

Image of wooden skeleton of vessel. Image of detail of wooden skeleton of vessel Image of detail of universal joints for paddles Image of Flying Boat hull awaiting skinning as paddles hang to dry Image of Flying Boat in process with wet hide in studio Image of paddle in process with wet hide in studio

Construction of The Traveling Sphinx, 1995

This mobile sculpture was conceived for participation in The Caravan Project, and so received partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and US West. Julia and I had bought this old trailer a few years previously and it had developed leaks in the roof causing waterfalls inside when it rained. I had made a large wax mask some years before from a rubber mold I had experimented with, and Jay Schmidt at Montana State University let me take a credit in bronze casting. He taught me ceramic investment and spruing which allowed me to make a mold which ended up weighing almost eighty pounds and required a lot of bronze to fill in that pyrotechnical process.The resulting mask was heavy enough that I'd as soon put it on a trailer rather than hauling it about myself, and the concept of the traveling sphinx was born.

The trailer was disassembled down to the chassis, with windows and cabinets put aside for reuse. A plasticene model was sliced like a loaf of bread and each section was traced onto graph paper, so the profiles could be reproduced onto 3/4 inch plywood. After window openings were framed in, a hot wire was used to cut bricks of polystyrene foam to form the walls and roof. Rough shaping of the exterior was done with a small hot wire, then finished with a coarse disc sander. For this step, the entire structure was enclosed in a plastic tent, and an industrial shopvac was indispensible in keeping the styrofoam dust out of the local environment.

I had planned to cover the exterior with epoxy and fiberglass-had even ordered it-but decided to spare the neighbors any odor or environmental hazard. Instead, I bought a lot of twelve ounce canvas and adhered it to the foam with white glue. I have had cause to regret that decision, since the canvas shrank when it was painted, of course, and distorted the intended form somewhat. Also, after several years the ultraviolet light has degraded both paint and canvas, so it needs a new skin now. I am leaning towards a polymer based stucco with fiberglass mesh underneath. The exterior was painted with copper paint. The interior was also stretched with canvas, a pleasing, organically shaped space with lots of headroom.

I pulled this trailer with my little Toyota pickup to the Caravan Project venues all over Montana the summer of 1995. I bought a 1966 Checker Marathon to pull it, even putting in a new 350 engine, but using the trailer hitch somehow caused old leaks in the gas tank to open up and for that reason I decided it wasn't safe for my family to travel in.

Watch a 21 minute video here, with music we collected in Africa and Thailand in the eighties, of the super 8 footage of Sphinx Construction on youtube.com.

And, watch a brief film of the Sphinx in motion filmed by Lynne Merrick in her extensive but unreleased 1995 documentation of the Caravan Project.

Image of old teardrop trailer with a tarp covering the top next to a house in a 
residential neighbohood. Image of bronze mask. Process image of trailer with windows,the walls made of stryfoam blocks. Process image of rear of trailer with windows,the walls made of stryfoam blocks. Process image interior ceiling of trailer made of stryfoam blocks. Process image of trailer after exterior has been shaped and smoothed. Julia painting the roof of the sphinx trailer. Julia still painting the roof of the sphinx trailer. Painted sphinx with plastic in window openings. Painted sphinx with windows and bronze face. Old Checker Marathon pulling sphinx trailer.

photo ©1995 Julia M. Becker

Boat of Bones, 1996

The parts for this vessel were individually made in the lost wax method and assembled with copper wire. It was probably inspired by the view in the clear water of a shallow Malaysian bay containing the skeletal remains of several boats on the bottom.

Image of dark wax form with red wax sprues attachedImage of dark wax ribs with red wax spruing arrangementImage of casted bronze ribs on sprues 
now bronze

Table for my Father, 1997

The wooden parts for this table were made from red oak from a barn in northeastern Iowa, which had been built some eighty years earlier by the family of James Lubke, who gave me the wood. I found the best way to work it was by rough sawing the parts on a bandsaw, then completing the shaping with rasps and finally sanding it sytematically. Using a band clamp to assemble it during glueing, I left the prominences which became the loops at the top of the legs unfinished so more clamping pressure could be applied.

The most challenging and time-consuming process was hand carving the 45 degree mortises and tenons accurately. The side panels are hollowed out so the table is really quite light.

Image of single unfinished wood table leg.Three examples of the table parts.

Elaborate Receptacle, 1998

This piece was also constructed of the Iowa barnwood from James Lubke. The six-by-sixes that the legs came from had been out in the Montana weather for years and had these big checks in them, which I cleaned out thoroughly and filled with little sandwiches of birch/purpleheart/ebony/purpleheart/birch. These forms too were shaped with rasps. The barrel-shaped side panels were bent from oak door skins.

The drawer fronts were carved from very thick material so that the pulls could be carved into them and the dovetails on the inside could be accomodated.

Image of several wooden cabinet parts. Another view of several wooden cabinet parts. View of inside of assembled side section. View of dovetail joints on completed drawer. View of rear of completed cabinet.