I knew that I wanted to be a high detail figurine sculptor and the first step was to decide on a theme. I decided on Greek mythology because when researching it they give you a whole list of the creatures and Gods and their descriptions, however it also allows for a lot of your own creative leeway. For example my first figurine sculpture, Medusa.
In Greek mythology Medusa is described as a woman with a head full of snakes. Most describe her as a monster however I decided to capture her as a dangerous beauty in my sculpture.
I took the idea of her having a head of snakes and interpreted it in a different way to most versions of Medusa by making the snakes long and large that reach all the way down to her feet, rather than the traditional many small snakes that just hover around her head. This is where Greek mythology allows for creative leeway, they tell you that she has a head of snakes however they don’t specify the size or breed of the snakes. Therefore I chose to make my snakes Cobras.
I also decided that I wanted the snakes to look as if they are growing out of her hair rather than straight out of the head. I did this because I didn’t like the way the snakes straight from her head looked kind of like sausages. It takes away from her beauty. I also considered when I paint it how the blending would look if it just went straight from skin to snakes and this didn’t work for me. This is why I decided to give her hair that turns into snakes. I thought that this would also add an interesting texture in the sculpting as the flowing hair starts to become scales.
Research for Medusa
Usually one would think the research stage is the most boring however I actually found it one of the most interesting stages and this is why. First of all when you’re doing a sculpture you have to consider the anatomy. This is a vital component as it ensures your proportions are accurate. So I got a whole bunch of reference pictures of skeletons and the muscle anatomy and studied how it all fits together.
You also have to consider the position you want her in and things such as the appearance of her face etc. then you have to consider the snakes. I found the Cobras to have some beautiful colours and patterns. An important part to consider with the snakes are the positions. Snakes can twist their bodies into interesting positions so you have to figure out when they appear rounder in areas and slightly flatter.
Then of course the snake with the open mouth, you have to consider how far open you want it and which angles look natural when they are striking etc.
Then because they are going to be sliding down medusa’s body you have to consider the effect that they have on the body and her body on the snake. I actually got rather lucky when I was researching for this sculpture because the TV program Time warp came on and they just happened to be filming Cobras striking in super slow motion. This was a super bonus and really interesting since it shows you how their fangs come out at which angles and everything.
Finally putting research to sculpture. First step was to build a basic wire skeleton. I started off sculpting medusa in a standard position with her legs straight down and her arms out. Then you take your clay and sculpt the bones onto the wire and mark off your joints. The joints are important to note since you will be moving her into the position you want her in and obviously you only move the joints because your bone area is solid. This is useful so you don’t end up getting an abnormally twisted arm for example.
Once you have the basic bone structure built you begin the interesting part, placing the muscle. I took small bits of clay and carefully built up each muscle over the bone going in the correct direction and everything. I find it quite useful to look at the sculpture from all different angles all the time because this assists you in deciding if parts are thick enough or have the correct shape.
Now you start moving her into the correct pose. Once you have this pose you can secure the structure to a piece of wood to keep her standing on her own. Since I sculpted her standing on her toes, balance became an issue so I supported her with a temporary external armature as well. This was basically just some threaded rod shoved into her back and attached to the wood.
A LESSON LEARNT! Do NOT Attach the sculpture to a long plank of wood like I did. (Short story time)
Ash is sculpting Medusa. Ash gets really into it. Ash starts focusing really hard on detail and forgets about long plank. Ash leans on edge of plank. Medusa learns to fly... catapult style. Only use the amount of wood you need. I should have used a small square.
Now that she is in position you see how the clay cracks and pulls away in some areas. These are the areas where your muscle position changes as you move, for example the back of the upper leg. As I pushed her leg forward, the clay split between her upper thigh and her bum. This is obviously because your muscle stretches here when you move so I went back and filled in the muscle changes. It helps if you take a photo of someone in the position you require.
So now you have your figurine in the muscle stage. Now you decide how much muscle you want to show through her skin. I wanted her to look toned but not show the full on six pack so I took very thin sheets of clay and carefully placed this over the abs and gently settled it between the grooves. This gave the effect of muscle under skin. I kept layering these thin sheets wherever I wanted to hide some muscle for example her two top abs show more than the rest.
I really enjoyed this stage it was a huge learning experience. My favourite part of the muscle structure was actually the facial muscles. It was so fascinating to see the difference between rolling a ball of clay and considering this your head, and actually sculpting the skull and the muscles over it. You see how the face fills out and which muscles do what.
This is where you start to see the personality of the sculpture come through. It all depends on how the brow is set, how high her cheeks are, the position of the lips, the eyes everything. I found that the eyes and mouth change the expression the most.
The actual position of the body does a lot to the sculpture as well. The whole concept of body language even shows through in sculpture. It was actually rather funny and totally interesting, before I’d put her head on I was fiddling around with her position and at one stage it looked like she had some serious attitude just because of the angle of her shoulder was a bit off. Another time she looked like she was desperately grabbing out for something… this kind of freaked me out, this headless body reaching out for me… Finally I found the correct position for the shoulders but then her hips were off so she looked like she had an odd limp but eventually…with a mild amount of frustration and dementedly shouting out “STOP IT!” to my sculpture, I got that elegant pose I was looking for.
Might I just add that all this moving around was no easy task. Not only was finding the right position an issue but every time I moved her, her left butt cheek would fall out! This was also not as amusing as it may sound, it was infuriating at the time especially since this was my very first attempt at delicate and small figurine sculpting, however I have made peace with it and learnt a lot.
Adding the snakes. This was really fun because snakes can twist themselves into such interesting positions. I found it rather fascinating to see how much of their bodies they can hold up in the air.
Clay however is not so talented. Clay only goes so far before it crumbles to the ground dramatically. Luckily I learnt this lesson back in varsity when I was sculpting a life size fantasy skull. I sculpted the entire thing with detailed teeth and all when its jaw suddenly dropped… quite literally… right off. It even rolled around a bit on the floor for dramatic effect. I resorted to trying to put it back together with toothpicks… THIS DID NOT WORK!
Anyway to prevent such drama with Medusa, I twisted some wires into the shape of the snakes first and then covered them in clay. I pushed the ends of the wires into medusa which helped to support her so I could remove the external armature. (Her butt cheek fell off a few more times during this process).
Eventually Medusa and her snakes were standing firmly on their own. Yaaaaay!
Now it was time for the detail. I like to work from top to bottom. This decision was made due to the fact that her bottom kept falling off with any movement so I chose to tackle that last.
I completed most of Medusa’s detail but decided to leave the legs for the very end so I did the detail on the snakes. I must have sculpted over a million individual scales however it was actually rather therapeutic… well except for those hard to reach areas… its not so therapeutic then.
Eventually I completed all the scales and all that was left was Medusa’s legs. This was the point where I lost my mind. As you can see in the image, the snakes are all around her legs. This makes it more than challenging to get the sculpting tool between the snakes to get to the legs without damaging the snakes. By more than challenging I mean physically impossible. By the time I had finished her legs I had wiped off about half of the scales on each snake. I sighed dramatically as I began the scales over again.
It took me a long 428 hours to complete this sculpture but I did it! My very first figurine sculpture. (I keep a book with me when I sculpt so I can record the exact hours I work)
I have now sent Medusa to my awesome friend, Chad Waller who is moulding it for me so I will be able to have her made out of a solid substance so I can paint and hopefully sell her as a figurine. Lets see how that goes J
Okay today I received some bad news. I have to resculpt Medusa's snakes. This is because my armatures for the snakes were too weak and I was using the wrong clay which was also weak and cracked easily. On the positive side Chad was able to mould the rest of Medusa. This is going to make sculpting her snakes much easier because now I don't have to worry about damaging her because she is now a solid piece.
After shedding a few tears I have built up the strength to start over. This time I will drill into the now solid Medusa and secure square tubing inside the areas where the snakes attach. I will then twist wires in the shape of each snake, place a thin layer of two part putty over each and attach the other side of the square tubing to the end of each snake. I will then secure the lot with plaster band aid. The square tubing will assist in reconnecting the snakes once they have been moulded. Now I will have strong armatures to sculpt around.
I have also made a change to the clay I sculpt with. I have now switched to Chavant clay. This clay is amazing. It doesn't crack or crumble and it is really easy to smooth out. I should no longer have problems with pieces like her butt cheeks falling off.
I shall begin sculpting Medusa probably after I am done with Hylonome.
I received the moulded section of Medusa today and unfortunately this is a bitter sweet story. The sweet part of the story is that there is a huge noticeable improvement in my sculpting from Medusa to Oreus. The bitter part of the story is that there is a huge noticeable improvement in my sculpting from Medusa to Oreus. Simply put, Oreus looks stunning and Medusa does not. I am still happy with half her face, her neck, hair and arms but thats about it unfortunately.
I am still deciding what to do with this now. I would still like to have a Medusa but she is not worth the money to complete moulding her. However I have already spent money moulding part of her. I am considering chopping off the parts of her that I like and using them in a new and improved sculpture of her. It's just a blow to the system discovering that you no longer like the thing you spent 428hours working on.
On the plus side I will focus on the fact that my skills have improved.
(more coming soon, sculpting Hylonome first)