Technical Article: “Ice Cream Series” by Alison Pack

September 3, 2013


For this article, we’ve decided to try a slightly different approach.  Rather than focusing on a specific technique, Alison Pack and I thought it would be enlightening to share all of the details of each stage of construction of one of her very unique hollowware pieces.  Alison is a consummate craftsperson and passionately dedicated teacher.  It is truly my pleasure to work with her so that we can offer you a glimpse into her studio to witness the creation of her playful and provocative work. –James Thurman, Technical Article Editor

“Ice Cream Series” by Alison Pack

In this article, I would like to share with you the creation of my Ice Cream series…. It was an exciting and at times an arduous two year journey that posed many technical questions.  This is due to the fact that I combined medium scale castings with fabrication after solely using raising, forming and fabrication techniques in my work for the past 13 years. It also added a few pounds to my waist line, because during those stressful technical moments I always indulged in the sweet treat which soothed away my frustrations. After working on this project while teaching full time, I learned a great deal about myself as both a metalsmith and an educator. However oddly enough, the experiences I had with these pieces have currently brought me closer to my favorite tool: the hammer. Humorously, I must state that while my relationship with metal is both deeply intimate and intuitive; the more I learn about working with metal it constantly puts me in my place — teaching me how little I actually know. The challenges of being a metalsmith keeps me coming back for more of my true love. This is why I always find so much comfort in my favorite quote: “The life so short, the craft so long to learn” – Chaucer

I want to especially thank James Thurman for inviting me to write an article and allowing me to share the intimate moments of how I created these works. I find this to be a huge honor and feel privileged to share my working process with others in my field. I sincerely hope that you find it both entertaining and enlightening.

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This is me pretending to be very Parisian while posing with a giant ice cream cone at an ice-cream stand in front of Marie Antoinette’s private home outside the palace of Versailles! And, this is me, as a beach bum outside of an ice cream shop getting ready to devour the real thing on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. These giant ice cream cones are what sparked the inspiration for these pieces!


Picture3After my first attempt at raising a scoop of ice cream from 18g sheet copper, I realized that it lacked the fluidity that I was seeking. I wanted to capture a sublime moment in time when the ice cream was moving in a liquious state as it begins to melt. This is when I realized that the lost wax casting process would allow me to capture the stylized fluidity of the melting surfaces.

A silicone rubber mold of the raised copper ice cream scoop allowed to me to make multiple wax models until I created the perfect one. Easy to melt and with working properties like a reductive jeweler’s wax, I used Joe’s pink injection wax which feels similar to plastic.  I manipulated the wax models slowly over a Bunsen burner to capture the surface of a melting scoop of ice cream. To further define and sculpt the surfaces of the form; I used both reductive and additive techniques until I was satisfied with the form and surface of the wax model. Due to the naturalistic scale of the  ice cream forms they were too large to cast centrifugally. Therefore, the waxes were outsourced to bronze foundry.

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Picture6The true to life sized cones were formed from 18g copper and textured by using an alternating cross peen and ball peen hammer texture. I made several copies of the paper model pictured, then cut them up and pasted them onto the annealed copper with rubber cement. This worked as a resist above and below the area that I textured. After hammering each area, I annealed the copper and repeated the paper resist technique. This allowed me to stay neatly within my lines. Once I was finished with all of the texturing I carefully formed the cones with my hands and used a long block of hard wood (in the same manner as a mallet) over a long tapered horn stake. The cones were annealed multiple times during the forming process.  I love using scallops as a decorative element in most of my work. To me they imply lace, which gives my work a little extra feminine edge. I wanted these cones to have a whimsy as well as a beautiful implied line where the waffle cone overlaps onto itself. I take pride in the role of being a metalsmith and love to accentuate details that reference the art form in a decorative manner such as using the marks of my favorite tools, hammers, to not only decorate the surface of my forms but to reiterate the fact that they are hand made from metal with traditional tools and techniques.


Picture7I spent many hours of trial and error to make the wax models appear visually convincing as ice cream. I manipulated the wax model of the ice cream scoop slowly over a Bunson burner to capture its melting surface. In order to fit the wax model onto the copper cone, I gently warmed the conical form in the flame and allowed it to slowly sink into the wax. To further define and sculpt the surfaces of the wax model, I used both reductive and additive techniques until I was satisfied with its form and surface. I drew the shapes of ice cream puddles that I envisioned to scale on a wooden board. Along the outlines, I made sturdy clay dams that I filled with molten pink injection wax. Filling the dams with multiple layers of molten wax is what allowed me to build up the soft puddle like plain changes. After removing the clay dam and cleaning the wax models of remaining clay residue, I used a small torch tip to gently heat their edges to give them a soft ice cream like appearance. Softly heating the entire surface of the forms with a small torch gently blended the multiple layers of wax into each other the same way ice cream layers would fold into each other in a viscous state. The inside of the scoop and the undersides of the puddles where back carved with the flex shaft and wax carving tools. Once the models were completely finished, I outsourced the wax models to a professional foundry to be cast in bronze.

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When the bronze pieces arrived from the foundry it was obvious that a small amount of shrinkage occurred during the casting process. The bronze ice cream scoop was now too small to fit onto its cone. This posed an unforeseen technical challenge. I took a huge risk and leap of faith to correct the problem. I annealed the bronze piece and once it was pickled, clean and dry I planished its outer edge hard against a round steel stake, in the same manner a heavy ring band would be hammered on a ring  mandrel to make it larger. I had to do this several times with multiple annealings in between. This process slightly stretched the outer edge. It was necessary to clean it up and reshape it with grinding burs on the flex shaft and by hand with files. In order for the ice-cream scoop to stay tightly in place on the cone  I formed and fabricated a slightly tapered cylinder out of 14g copper.  The large copper ring essentially works as a stop creating a fitted lid. I ensured that it fit perfectly inside of the scoop before it was soldered in place onto the cone.

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Picture13I created a small melting puddle of ice cream to hold up the ice cream cone. The copper cone was held into place for soldering into its bronze base with the assistance of gravity. I supported the cone at my desired angle with soldering bricks. The bricks assisted in the soldering operation by acting as a partial fire box. White out was used as anti-flux and painted along the exposed seams of the cone to ensure that while soldering no solder would travel along the seam and into the hammered surface textures.

I am not advocating the use of white out in this article. However, I enjoy using it as anti-flux and only use it in an extremely well-ventilated area. I also paint flux over the dried white out which I have learned keeps the white out from burning. The burning is what causes the nasty fumes associated with its use. Removing it can be difficult and using a pickle bath alone is usually not strong enough. A scotch brite pad with soap and water and elbow grease followed by submersion in an ultra-sonic bath is required. The speediest solution for removal is using the sandblaster.

After the cone and puddle were soldered together, I sanded the bottom of the bronze puddle in a back and forth motion across sandpaper mounted on plexi glass. This was an extremely time consuming process, but hand sanding was the safest way to sand the bottom of the form. I wanted all of the ice cream puddles to appear convincing when displayed on a pedestal. Any gaps between the ice cream and the top of the pedestal would defeat my purpose and be visually distracting.


Of course my ice cream cones had to have toppers just like cupcakes! The sweeter the better! For both “Eat Me I’m Delicious” and “Bite Me” I used a small plastic doll body to make the toppers. The type of plastic the doll was made from would not burn out cleanly in the kiln. To solve this problem I made a small silicone rubber mold to create wax replicas.

Once the cast silver torso and tutu (cast from found plastic buttons) were soldered together, I gently heated them with a Bunson burner while holding them with a third arm tweezer. I pressed the warm silver topper into the wax drip topping while it was perched onto its bronze ice cream scoop. This allowed for a flush fit by sinking the topper into its topping — the same way it would appear in a real ice cream cone! After the wax topping was cast, I super glued it to the bronze ice-cream and drilled through the topping and the ice-cream for alignment of two threaded rods that were soldered into the bottom of the tutu. Using a cold connection allows the topper to be removed easily for future cleanings.  I love this image of how I pinned down her arms and sweat soldered her little silver spoon into her hand. It looks like she is in a torture device. However…I was the one being tortured!!!

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The next step was, binding down and sweat soldering the drip topping to the ice cream scoop. I threaded steel binding wire through the holes that I drilled for the threaded rods to hold the two forms together. Due to the small amount of shrinkage after being centrifugally cast in brass, the topping form had to be filed and carved out with burs in some places on its interior; to regain a snug fit against the bronze ice-cream scoop for soldering them together.

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Picture20When planning the construction of “Bite Me” I utilized the same approach while making its topper. The wax drip topping was poured onto the bronze ice-cream puddle. After the wax model was cool, I redefined it with reductive carving techniques. The silver torso and legs were once again warmed and sunk into their corresponding wax model. I placed the sprues strategically on the wax models not to alter the keyed areas that needed to snuggly fit together for soldering.

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I used third arm tweezers to hold the torso and legs in place for sweat soldering them into their keyed places. After the pieces were sweat soldered into the brass puddle, they were soldered once again with the pick soldering technique. This was due to the fact that cast pieces are extremely porous and require extra solder for a complete solder seam. Since the steel tweezers act as a heat sink, two small torches were used to heat the piece quickly and efficiently.

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Picture26I had to figure out how to make metal sprinkles that looked like the real thing — so I bought some! I painted craft glue and pink acrylic paint onto my ice cream cone and began sprinkling away. The temporary application of pink paint was used solely to help set the mood, and help assist me in envisioning the end result with color on metal application. I discovered that using 16g copper wire was the best way to make them appear convincing. I favored the fresh crisp clean look of the soldered wire over the possibility of creating them from wire wax and incorporating them into the cast forms. Though making each one from wire was a time consuming process, I was pleased with the detail of the end result.



To make the pieces of wire convincing as sprinkles, I used a cup burr the same size as the wire for rounding prongs. Clamping them in my filing jig and the assistance of my flex shaft made this easy.

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Picture30I pick soldered the copper sprinkles onto the ice cream forms with the assistance of gravity. For the large puddle, the piece was fluxed and placed horizontally on a heavy wire screen mounted on a soldering tripod. A great deal of heat was needed to solder onto the large bronze puddle, so I used two large torches; one for heating above the piece and one for heating below the screen. Once the flux turned clear and reached 1100 degrees, I removed the flame and placed on fluxed sprinkles in groupings of 3 or 4 with small tweezers. When the visual indicators of the metal showed me that my solder would flow, I removed one torch and proceeded carefully by pick soldering the sprinkles into place.

When I soldered the sprinkles onto the domical puddles of drip toppings, the forms had to be constantly repositioned in order for gravity to hold them in place. I used two small torches; to heat both above and below the piece simultaneously.

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Picture34I used what I refer to as the “tape trick” To create the cast layer of melting ice cream around the top area of the discarded cone. I wrapped clear tape around the top of the cone and drew the contour line of a stylized melting edge and bite mark with a sharpie. This allowed me to make a tag board template of the length and shape I needed to cut from sheet wax. With my hands, I formed the wax into a slightly tapered cylinder around the top of the cone. With a small torch, I gently and carefully manipulated its surface to appear as though it was starting to melt. After I centrifugally cast the wax model in brass I sweat soldered it onto the cone. I sawed and filed along the edge of the brass bite mark to remove the surrounding part of the cone. I sanded a flat spot on the bottom of the cone so it would no longer have the ability to roll. The final step was soldering in the small melting puddle of ice cream that is flowing out of the cone.

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These images display the standing cone prior to final touches of clean up in what I refer to as the “naked stage,” because it awaits color on metal application. Invisible to the viewer, a threaded brass rod was secured under the topper’s tutu and runs through the middle of the cone. The nut and washer that securely hold the entire object together are hidden under the puddle of ice cream. The threaded rod assists in easy disassembly of the piece for cleaning the silver topper; which is also bolted into the ice cream scoop with two small threaded brass rods. I tightly pegged her polymer clay cherry head onto a little silver rod which extends from her neck. These images illustrate the cone assembled and disassembled in two parts.

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Picture39I initially learned about the application of gesso and Prismacolor Pencils under the direction of Master Metalsmith Marilyn da Silva in a workshop at Arrowmont thirteen years ago. What was so invigorating about this process was the fact that my metal work could truly reflect my statement and personality. Until I was introduced to this technique my palette was only the colors of silver, copper, brass and nickel. I love and admire their beautiful colors but I was craving something more. Color on metal allows me to breathe life into my forms.

My favorite paints are Folk Art metallic acrylic paints, Martha Stewart metallic acrylic paint, gold Rub- n Buff wax metallic finish and most recently nail polish! I always prime the surface of copper with black gesso when before I use Prismacolor or Crayola metallic pencils.

The first step is applying tooth to the surface of the metal. Tooth or a roughened surface is required to hold gesso or acrylic paint. I do this by sandblasting, file finishing or using a dremel tool like Advantage Pink Aluminum Oxide points from Rio Grande which has always been one of my personal favorites. Using it in a back and forth motion creates a satin like texture. For small hard to reach places riffler files are a must; next to hammers they are my favorite tools.

After applying tooth, I clean my pieces with pumice and water or baking soda and water with a tooth brush to remove any oils from the metal’s surface.

Picture40“Eat Me, I’m Delicious”
Photo Credit: Tim Barnwell
Bronze, copper, sterling silver, polymer clay cherry, acrylic paint and nail enamel
Dimensions in inches 10.5 inches from the base of the sculpture to the tip of the cherry, base at it’s widest point 4.3 inches, the widest part of the scoop is 3inches.

This is an example of how color on metal breathes life into my work. I used many layers of metallic paint to create the frosty glow on the ice cream’s surface. While painting this piece I fell in love with the Martha Stewart pearlescent paints. The copper sprinkles and polymer clay cherry head were painted with nail polish.

This piece is a self-portrait about my relationship and struggles with indulging in sweets and my body image as well as the struggle of living my dream as a professor and the delicate balancing act between school, my students and the craving for the creation of my own works. Believe me this stressful situation leaves me craving for my favorite thing — sweets! It is the studio time that I continuously long for. This piece is about a fleeting moment in time. As you can see, I am doomed to melt in my own puddle. And yes, it is a little naughty too with subtle humorous sexual references.Picture41

With every piece I create, I still spend many hours of trial and error with samples and always follow the manufacturer’s directions on paints. After all, they are there for a reason. For example if the label says don’t add water, don’t add water. If it says allow it to wait to dry, let it dry. I always think in terms of applying what I refer to as “baby, baby” amounts because a little paint goes a long way. I take many breaks during the process making certain each layer of wet or dry brush application of paint has ample time to air dry. I would never use color on metal to hide poor craftsmanship or a flaw in one of my works. Applying color to a flaw on the piece is like covering up a big zit with makeup — it just draws more attention to the blemish.

This is a close up of the ice cream puddle which is holding her up. Color is essential to convey both the mood and narrative of the piece. Without my careful selection of color application the narrative of the piece would not be conveyed in such a playful way.  Even though I used many layers of metallic paints, the physical appearance of the metal is still apparent and the copper sprinkles coated in nail polish look real! This process is what allows me to literally put the icing on the cake!



Picture43“Bite Me”
Photo Credit: Tim Barnwell
Bronze, copper, sterling silver, polymer clay cherry, acrylic paint and nail enamel
Ice cream puddle, 6.5 inches long, 4 inches wide at the widest point, 2.6 inches tall from the base of the right foot to the tallest point of her left foot. Cone is 8 inches long, and 3 inches tall and 3 inches wide at its widest point, which is the mouth of the cone.

In “Bite Me” the bitten cone illustrates coming closer with her, or shall I say my, doomed fate. Discarded and melting the puddle of ice cream will surely drown her. The irony is, the cast off cone is no longer edible but is still inviting to the viewer because of its subtle sexual humor.



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