Saturday, November 21, 2009

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.


mel said...

I am so enjoying the "puzzle" of all this! The complexity of the project is astonishing, but it is yielding lovely results!

eel said...

That's a really neat idea, Lesli. I will remember that for the future.