Excellent News! The Red Headed Mustache Man was completed and delivered to his new home at the end of November. All those involved were happy, charmed, and amused by him. Of course, we miss him here at home. My “studio” is the 2nd bedroom in our 2bd apartment, so any project I do becomes a part of our lives and family. The Lyon and I make little jokes about the characters and objects I create. This one is called Alex.
THE BIRTH OF ALEX
I was commissioned to make a sculpt of my client’s friend “Alex”. She wanted it to be a good likeness of her friend, wear a specific costume, and have a more idealized body.
So we agreed on a pose, a body, the size, the material (paper), and a price.
She e-mailed me a collection of images to reference.
PLAN TO BEGIN
“The beginning is the most important part of the work” ~ Plato
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a sculptor is to spend more time planning the creation process before jumping into doing the work. I think I’ve always been more of a doer than a planner. I love to jump in with both feet and figure things out as I go along. Many people do make art that way. It can be a wonderful way to work and can produce compelling results when making work that is loosely interpreted or abstract. When making something that is realistic it is necessary to plan.
STUDY THE POSE
The requested pose was one that is very common in classical figurative art. A contrapposto pose with the weight distributed down through the right leg. In preparation for the armature, I had to have a clear understanding of where the figure’s center would be, the proportions planned out, and the gesture (energy flow) of the pose with the hip and shoulder angles drawn up.
MEASURE TWICE CUT ONCE
Out came the anatomy books, the how-to do portrait books, the how-to sculpt a figure books. Whatever I had, I reviewed, bookmarked, planned 1st on paper, measured, and re-measured. The goal was to have a realistic looking figure. Classical and correct comes with careful planning. I nearly drove myself batty with the preliminary measurements and ‘seeing it’ before it was physically created.
It is debatable whether or not an armature is necessary for a figure of this size. I chose to start with an armature so that I could have more control over modifying the pose if necessary and I could guarantee that the piece could be more easily repaired if it is damaged. I could elaborate on that, but talking about my work getting damaged gives me an icky feeling. ya know?
Here are some pics of Alex when he was just a baby… err I mean an armature.
The armature is aluminum wire, coat hanger, and perhaps some other wire or two for good luck ( I went a little overboard with the wire ). The aluminum foil was used as a substructure for the paper mache and to start the process of bulking up the body. I also used an epoxy clay at the joints for strength.
Yeah, that’s right… Alex could have been an Alien.
Alex is made primarily of paper. I used a combination of paper mache techniques and recipes throughout his creation.
The first layer was built up from a clay pulp made primarily from egg cartons, fast food drink holders and water. A little PVA glue was thrown in for good measure along with a dash of saw dust. Some paper artist’s say that one can simply tear the egg carton up and mix it with water to make a workable pulp. There is a glue already in the carton as well as additives to prevent mold. The mixture did not stick to itself very well though, and when dry it comes out too soft for me, so I added glue to it.
Yup, right again…. Alex was a zombie for a little while.
See that image on my netbook in the background? That’s the pose I was going for and the body. Pretty nice, huh?! He’s got a loong road ahead of him!
For the next week or two I built Alex up in increments with a paper mache clay mixture. I varied and modified my recipes a bit from information I pieced together from around the web. My main recipe source for the clay came from Jonni at http://www.ultimatepapermache.com/paper-mache-clay
I intentionally built it up slowly to make sure that all the layers would dry so as not to attract mold growth or bugs.
My process involves much back and forth of building up a form and then carving material away.
THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB
I have amassed a hearty collection of modelling tools and I use them all pretty much equally.
Many sculptors have a few favorites. My favorites change from project to project. In fact, I have so many tools that I choose favorites and then lose track of them throughout the creation process.
KEEP TAKING YOUR GAME TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Here comes the sports analogy….
To be a great athlete you have to practice the right things, the right way, you have to conquer self-doubt, and you have to always expect more from yourself every time you compete. Sculpting is the same way.
Of all the artists I’ve known only two or three were instantly good. The rest got good through hours and hours of deliberate practice, continuous study, and by conquering that pesky little demon that sits on their shoulder; who tells them that they don’t have any talent and that whatever they are working on sucks. There was a time when I thought that I didn’t have it in me to sculpt an accurate figure much less one that seemed to have life. I continued to practice. I learned to get more control over my self-doubt and eventually I started to see results that I could be proud of.
Having said that, I still had a lot of self-doubt to conquer while working on Alex. I thought that I needed to be more familiar with the material to do a good job. I thought that my lack of experience of working on a small-scale would interfere with being successful. I especially thought that I was too rusty because I hadn’t sculpted much for many years.
Instead of buying into all those thoughts of worry, lack, and limitation; I chose to be confident that if I focused hard enough, worked diligently enough, continued to re-sculpt the mistakes until I got a better result, and most importantly; I believed that the final result would be something special. All I needed was time.
COMMISSIONED ART IS A COLLABORATIVE PROCESS
This is where I give kudos to my client who pushed but was not too pushy. Alex is a better man. Um errr… Statue because of her critiques and requests for changes. It helps to have a fresh pair of eyes on your work.
He started to look much much better as you can see here. Next came some finishing touches. A tickle here, a tickle there.
I painted Alex with water-mixable oils. That added quite a bit of time to finish him because oils take a long time to dry. I felt that I would achieve better and richer results with the oil paint though. I think that I would like to use acrylics in the future.
By the way, the base was a pencil holder I picked up in a thrift store. I flipped it upside down, removed the shells and starfish ( client’s choice) and made a mosaic with paper beads where the shells once were. He stands 13″ tall without the base. The base is about 6″ high.
Now on to other things. Completing old projects. Starting new ones. Perhaps a commission for you!
Happy New Year!
~ The Mouse