Chinese artist and fake-maker Liao Yibai’s sculptures, glistening with their mirror finishes and minutely perfect details, amazingly conceal the laborious and precise work that goes into each piece. The creation of his Fake Leica cameras is comprised of the following five components:
The artist begins the process with detailed sketches depicting the texture, scale, and measurements. The sketches themselves stand as pieces of finished work; delicate lines reference areas of high detail contrasted with thick, bold lines indicating the shape and structure of the planned sculpture.
Clay and Wire
It is at this point that Yibai’s creative vision takes on three dimensional form. A wire sculpture is first created to capture the initial concepts, proportion, and scale, echoing his sketches. This wire armature is then covered in clay, and the shapes and structure of the work begin to form. The wire base beneath the clay provides a solid structure to which the clay can adhere. During this process, the surfaces are created, edited, and refined until the final sculpture is realized. The artist’s hands are echoed in the delicate pushing of the malleable clay, a characteristic remaining in the final product. Once finalized, the piece will move into the labor-intensive production stage.
The clay form is first cut in two halves, and then cast in resin as individual pieces. Together, the two casts form a complete negative mold. Liquid fiberglass is poured into each side of the mold, where it hardens to create a rock-solid version of the clay sculpture. The result is a solid piece that reflects the final product. Yibai maps out small sections on the surface of the fiberglass sculpture to create a jigsaw puzzle-like diagram. Hundreds of stainless steel sheets are cut and painstakingly hammered and shaped by hand around the sectioned areas of the fiberglass model.
Rough Stainless Steel
After each steel sheet is formed against the fiberglass mold, the artist begins welding the individual pieces together. Great attention is paid to insuring the sheets fit seamlessly together. Once shaped to perfection, the metal is hand welded together to create a rough, blackened version of the final product. This shell of roughened steel is now ready to be polished and refined.
Final Stainless Steel
Before polishing commences, Yibai adds remaining intricate details, giving the sculpture the reflection of its real-life counterpart. To create strength, all welding is reinforced, and the supports are ready to be removed. At this point, the piece is structurally complete, and the polishing and detail work can commence at last. Final polishing and detailing is done by hand and without power tools, adding to the irony of a seemingly-machine produced product that is done entirely without. Rough edges are evened out, scratches are removed, and the surface is brought to a mirror finish. The final product is an oversized version of the Leica camera, created with the exact details of the original.