Tag Archives | design

A new approach to adding the hair

Like I mentioned in the previous post, I dread manes. It takes a bit of playing around with them to find something that works for the design, but all the adding and removing and editing invariably damages the underlying sculpture. Of course if you sculpted it once, you have the ability to do it again, but I hate the lost time. In the past what I have done is take a design up to the point where I am in the above picture and then cast it. After that I would clean up a casting, fire it, and use it as a base for sculpting the mane. (Like this.)

This means the original goes through two shrinks; one when it is cast and made into the background for the new original, and a second when the final casting were made. What I’ve learned from shrinking down originals to create smaller versions is that there is a certain amount of distortion that amplifies with multiple castings. I wasn’t confident that I could just enlarge my design 12% to account for the two shrinks, and still come up with the required trading card dimensions.

That and my unwillingness to sculpt manes on a soft surface was a limitation I needed to overcome. I needed a new approach.

I decided that part of my problem was trying to design on the fly on the non-hardening clay. I needed to do more of my design work on paper before I approached the clay.

So what I did was take a picture of the hairless design (that’s the picture at the top of this post) and print it out in actual size. I also dropped the opacity of the image to 70% so I could better see the lines I would draw. From there I started sketching in the mane. These weren’t the general direction lines I had used before, but a blueprint of exactly where the strands would fall.

My goal was to confine my redesigning to erasing pencil lines, rather than removing clay. But even more so, what I wanted to do was more accurately replicate the feel of my linework in my sculptures. My drawings have always had a softer, wispier feel that I had wished was more evident in the manes and tails of my sculpting. The sculpted versions always looked clunky in comparison, at least to my eyes.

I thought that perhaps if I drew something specifically intended to be sculpted from, I might begin to see what was getting lost in the translation.

Using the drawing, I sculpted exactly what I had drawn directly on the printout.

After the basic shapes were in place, I used Goo-Gone and a paintbrush to smooth the surfaces. This was a leap of faith because I had foolishly not thought about the possiblity that the solvent might melt the ink (or the paper) until after I started brushing it on the surface. Surprisingly, Goo-Gone doesn’t do anything to ink jet printouts.

Obviously the strands aren’t in their final, polished form. All I really wanted was to capture the larger shape and movement. Once I had that, the paper and clay were all placed in the freezer. I had used NSP Soft so that it would blend well (and not take a lot of tool pressure to detail) once it was added to the horse, but that meant the clay was much too soft to maintain its shape without freezing it first.

It worked! It took a while, but a day later the bits of mane were stiff enough to pop off the paper backing. It was a bit like placing little mane stickers on the horse.

Here are the first handful of bits I placed sitting on the rapidly defrosting horse. I eventually put them all in place, but the design was too cold for them to stick. I had to let it thaw a little first, then gently press them down.

The mane still needs a lot of cleaning up and detailing, but it’s all in place. The whole design, with all the mane bits, is back in the freezer for the moment. I need everything to firm back up so I can do the final shaping of those mane pieces. After that it’s just a bit more detailing of the strands and I’ll be ready for the final pre-casting inspection.

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Working on the horse

In between sessions with the background, I roughed in the missing throatlatch and shoulder. While the background is permanently attached to the white tile, the horse is worked on a piece of wax paper. I need him loose so I can place him on the background from time to time.

Once the general shapes are all there, I use a photograph to assess the horse. Often flaws that aren’t immediately obvious in the clay are quite visible in the photo. In this case, the first thing I noticed is that I have the eye canted at too steep an angle. I’ll need to pull the top corner down just a bit. But the bigger problem is that while I was thinking that I’d have the horse’s face slightly angled away, so that the nostril is only barely visible, the upper part of the face is too much in profile for that to work properly. I’m not going to get the slightly turned away effect; I’m going to make the muzzle look too small.

This is a problem that’s really easy to have with bas relief because the perspective is skewed. Things are not receding in a straight-forward manner. The sculptor manipulates them to emphasize certain things and downplay others. There is more art to getting this right than science. Looking at the photo, though, I could tell that what I had was not going to work unless I brought the muzzle around just a bit.

Although it’s hard to see because my default color (lime green) isn’t that different from the gray-green of the clay, I’ve cut and pasted the eye area at a more shallow angle to see if that helps my face. I learned this trick from my friend Carol Williams. Instead of immediately cutting apart her sculptures to make adjustments, she tried the corrections out in PhotoShop first. It is a huge time-saver! If I find I am going down a wrong alley with my proposed solution, at least I haven’t mangled my work. And if I’m not worried about “undoing all that work”, I can be a lot braver about changes.

I’ve also added some directional lines to indicate what I might do with his mane. As I’ve worked more on the background, I’ve come to realize that I’m going to need some strong visual cues that bring the eye back to the face. That’s because the text will naturally draw the eye from the left to the right. I need to pull it back up and to the left, so using movement in the mane is a natural choice.

Here I can take those same lines and use PhotoShop to add them to my design. I think something like this is going to work, but it will mean revising my ideas about border flourishes. For the moment I’m going to leave the simpler border. I’ll be better able to assess what needs to happen with that aspect of the design when I’m closer to the end. My suspicion at this point is that any additional ornamentation will be minimal, and will likely go in the top right corner.

But aside from some tweaking here and there, this is probably the general design.

Here is my background again, minus the horse. I’ve textured the square behind the horse with a grooved loop. (The tool is actually made from an old guitar string.) It’s a barely-there texture, but it will be enough to catch some of the glaze and give the area a little bit of interest.

You can also see the blue border has returned. I have to share my secret for getting pristine border edges on medallions. The blue material is “wax wire”. It comes in various thicknesses and bevel styles. The border here is a 12 guage half-round. The wax is soft enough to bend into curves, which is what was done at the corners. I filled the miters with NSP Soft, which is why there are green areas.

I also used the time in between working on the horse to get a smooth, uniform bevel along the outside of the card. This doesn’t have to be perfect since I’ll sand the edges of each casting, but the closer it is the less time I’ll have to spend with each casting.

The horse and background at both getting close to done at this point. In this photo the face is done except for some smoothing of the ear, the area behind the eye and the front of the nostril.

The smoothing is done with a soft brush and some Goo-Gone, which works as a solvent for the Chavant clays. I find this part tricky because I gravitate towards a softer, smoother style. I suppose years of painting Maureen Love sculptures has had an effect on me! But I’ve also learned that heavy-handed smoothing can take away the lifelike quality of a piece.

Here I have the face mostly where I want it. Normally I would not finish out one area to this high level while another (in this case, the shoulder) is still really rough. The chances of damaging the one while I work the other is pretty high. But things that had been eluding me about sculpting faces were beginning to click, and I found myself unwilling to set the face aside. Hopefully I won’t do anything clumsy while finishing the shoulders, or else I might find out just how well I learned those things about faces!

I’m also almost caught up with where the sculpture is at in real time, so there might be a day or two between posts. But soon I’ll be merging the two – background and horse – together!

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