My Ai Weiwei moment

Also known as, “The back tobacco field is finished”!
Between the Kilns photo Tobacco-BackField-01_zps2e5562e0.jpg

While using tweezers to build more than 500 little tobacco plants for the back field at St. Williams, I could identify with the craftspeople who painted the 100,000,000 (yes – one hundred million!) porcelain sunflower seeds for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei‘s 2010 installation at the Tate Modern in London:

I’m sure there were many days when those artists felt the project would never end – and I know I felt that way with the Busch HO scale tobacco plants I used.

But the field is done and ready for a fence.

I installed the field this weekend. I realized that since I was going to add dirt to the field to hide the plastic base, I was going to have to prevent diluted glue from pouring over the back edge of the layout (and possibly ruining the fabric backdrop: There’s a gap, about an inch wide, between layout and backdrop but I didn’t want to take any chances). Here’s how I did that:

First, I test-fit the field:
Test-fit field photo Tobacco-BackField-02_zps828739c8.jpg

What’s not obvious in the above picture is that I’ve airbrushed the plants with a variety of greens and a bit of tan. I used flat-drying acrylics from Vallejo, which broke up the uniformity of the plants and killed the plastic shine. Yes, I weathered my crops.

I then set aside the field and laid down a line of No More Nails adhesive near the back edge of the layout. I then put a two-inch wide angle into a length of aluminum foil and glued this to the layout surface, adding more No More Nails to seal the edge of the foil:
A line of No More Nails photo Tobacco-BackField-03_zps5787976b.jpg Catching the mess photo Tobacco-BackField-04_zpsc75ab1bf.jpg

I then spread more adhesive and pressed the field into place:
Gluing down the tobacco field photo Tobacco-BackField-05_zpsffb4ad16.jpg

Then I went away and let the No More Nails cure.

The next day, I shook a Scenic Express dirt blend over the field. I used a soft paint brush to brush the tops of the plants – this was sufficient to knock off most of the dirt that landed on the leaves. I then wet down the area with water (I use an olive oil sprayer, which delivers a fine mist – no wetting agent required) and applied dilute Weld Bond adhesive with an eyedropper. The missing plants in the field really helped with this, as I had spaces to insert the eyedropper without getting glue all over the plants themselves:
Adding soil to the tobacco field photo Tobacco-BackField-06_zps86550235.jpg

Here’s the finished field, ready for a fence:
Tobacco field installed photo Tobacco-BackField-07_zpse1e66846.jpg

I’m very happy with how this turned out.

Finally, as a comparison, have a look at the finished field with airbrushed plants and dirt, versus a photo of the field under construction. I think the extra effort was worth it:
Tobacco field close-up photo Tobacco-BackField-08_zpsea3dc67c.jpg Tobacco Plants photo TobaccoPlants-01.jpg

That’s it for tobacco – for now. I have another 250-300 plants to build for the front edge of the layout, but first I have to build the fence for this field, then build five tobacco kilns.

I’m not yet done with Ai Weiwei moments, it seems!

7 thoughts on “My Ai Weiwei moment

  1. Pingback: Inspiration – and agreement | The Erratic and Wandering Journey

    • Hi Simon:
      Thanks for the nice words. I think it’s worthwhile too. It’s a good thing to have a palette of colours for weathering, and use them on everything including railway equipment, structures, scenery and vehicles, and so on. It helps blend everything together into a coherent scene, I think.

    • Hi Mike:
      Thanks and yes, it was a lot of work! But, like any project, manageable if one breaks it down into smaller chunks and works on other projects at the same time so it doesn’t seem quite so endless. As the saying goes, one eats an elephant one bite at a time.

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