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Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Child of God (Sculpture Tutorial)


If you've not followed one of my tutorials before, these are done to allow other artists some insight into the experimental techniques I use to create my sculpture work. This tutorial will take you step by step from concept to the final creation. They are usually done in real time, meaning that as I am creating it I am also taking time to photo document the process and post and write about it as each step is completed. Depending on the sculpture, the process may take a week to two weeks to complete. I appreciate feedback and commentary in the space provided below. I will answer any questions to the best of my ability both during the process and after it concludes. 

  • SCULPTURE NAME: A Child of God
  • SCULPTURE SERIES: Driftwood Series
  • SIZE: 67" Long
  • PRICE POINT: Not yet decided


The concept behind this piece was to create a spirit creature emerging from a fallen tree that was still part tree, part creature. I've considered "Metamorphosis" as the pieces permanent name, but will see how it proceeds first. 
Back Story

Some pieces beg for a back story. Creating a back story allows me as the artist to envision the sculpture in a whole new way and make it more real. Some back stories come fully formed when the sculpture is conceived while others take a bit more time to be brought out. 

This piece in particular is showing the origins of the faerie race. Legend has it that each of the Fae were created from fallen branches of the World Tree. When the branch falls, the faerie grows as an extension of that branch. The branch functions somewhat like a cocoon until the faerie is both physically and spiritually ready to emerge into the universe. 


I am using a 67 inch piece of driftwood pulled from the Mississippi. The arch of the wood was appealing and I felt a dynamic design was possible with it. The skeleton will not be the final form. It is merely the underpinning for a body that will be molded over it and attached directly to the driftwood. It is my intention at this point to also make this piece the wax work piece in the March show. This means that rather than use paint on the piece I will use metallic wax, melted and merged to create a design on both the wood and the body. This is an experiment though as I've never worked with wax on a multifaceted surface before, only on two dimensional surfaces. Some smaller experiments will need to be done as I proceed in the design. 


Some of you know that I am an assimilation artist. I strive to connect the unseen dots between one piece of work and the next. The assimilation of a piece into a large body of work is important to the concept. With that in mind, the backstory for this piece connects the sculpture to the broader Revenant series but also connects it to the recently completed Boudicca's Last Rest sculpture

Step #1
Sealing the Skeleton

It will be impossible to work with the skeleton and overlay it with clay until it has been permanently sealed to the driftwood. This will take place in several stages, the first in sealing the base of the spine to the wood. From there some clay can be used to seal the upper spine also. Once this step is complete I can move on to the overlay and sealing various appendages in place. Here you see the final position of the skeleton ready to be sealed. 

Step #2
Creating the Head

I am going to work down the skeleton starting with the head. Its important right from the start that the clay work is done in a way that makes the body look like its part of the tree still. The intent of the piece is not to make it look like a body laying on a tree, but like the body is emerging from that tree. So starting with the skull I am merging the clay directly into the wood beneath it. The head will be done in several stages. This is the first stage as seen in the photo. Second stage will be the facial features. The last stage will be the neck and ears. 

In this image you can see the first layer of foaming glue over the back of the skull and extending down to secure it directly to the tree beneath. 

Step #3
The Eyes & Nose

Here you see the creation of the eyes and nose. The eye sockets in particular are important. I've already chosen a set of eyes to be inserted later, but its important that I gauge the size of the socket now so what I add later will fit well. 

I've raised the forehead here and created folds around the eyes. I also decided to add the eyes now so that I could work around them easier. Note also that the jaw does not gape open and is now only partially opened. I've also given the face its first black basing so that it brings uniformity to the features.


As the piece evolves its taken on a new name. This may be the only name change or there may be more. Its always hard to say until the piece is finished. The new name is:


Refer to the back story above for the reasoning behind this name.

Step #4
Adding the Horns

As a faerie creature it is natural that I would consider horns for this piece. Here you can see the completed horns done with clay and foaming glue. I considered drilling a hole into the skull and placing a heavy gauge wire to wrap the clay around, but decided I didn't want to mess with the integrity of the skull by drilling holes in it. I will add an additional cute of glue once the first coat is dry to make sure that the horns are stable and strong.

Step #5
Adding the Jaw & Lips

Here our friend now has a more pronounced jawline, a jutting chin and lips.

Step #5
Creating the Neck & Tongue

Logically the next step is to fill out the neck and continue it down to connect to the tree beneath. But in order to do so I've needed to put two dry foam inserts into the rib cage extending up to the neck. This serves two purposes. It fills the spaces at the arc of the neck and it fills the ribcage to allow for a more conservative use of natural clay when I work down to that area of the body. Once the neck was built I was able to extend the clay up from beneath into the mouth to create a tongue within. Surprisingly the tongue has made the figure much more real. 

Step #6
Sculpting the Chest

This I think might be the most difficult part of the body to work on. The most crucial aspect was filling in around the dry foam in the rib cage. This is important because if the clay is not packed tightly around the foam there is the possibility that once the clay dries it will crack and fall apart. If it does so then the potential exists for the chest to eventually cave in. So each rib had to be as tightly packed as I could get it and the angles underneath had to be filled and contoured to attach the rib cage to the tree below while still allowing for the area between the back of the head and the torso to remain and open area around the neck. 

You will note in the photos that there is now a heavy gauge wire extending from the top of each shoulder out. This wire was added first and glued tightly to the arm socket first and then surrounded by clay and reglued. The wires will be the supports for the wings eventually and extend to the end of the arm. 

The torso looks a bit round right now, but when the lower torso is added and detailing occurs it should smooth it out a bit and make it not look as round. Note that there is no belly button and no ribs showing. The lack of a belly button is because its the tree thats birthing the faerie. And no ribs because he is not a child of adam. 

Step #7
Sculpting the Lower Torso

The lower torso is tricky because as a faerie creature he/she would have no reproductive organs. So I needed to craft it in a way that allows me to add other features later if I want. So at the moment he looks a little flat. But I have a few ideas for how to adapt the torso later. For now though the hardest portion of the clay work are complete. Its an odd piece. Its like having a half formed body sitting in the midst of the studio. Its no small piece so it has an eerie "living" feeling to it. 

Step #8
Sculpting the Legs

The first layer of flesh has been added to the left leg. A second layer will be added later in the detailing phase. Both feet were glued in place a few steps back to keep them secure to the wood. You will also note that the wiring for the arms has now been attached at both ends and smaller loop of wire added for a butterfly effect on the wings. These will be dealt with later.

Here the right leg is now finished. I've given him a cloven hoof on this side. On the left leg the foot is still part of the wood so is unformed yet. Please note the odd piece of dry foam now attached to the chest. This piece is epoxied on and drying in order to launch into the next step. He is truly a ghoulish sight at this stage.

Step #9
The Tentacles

Because the torso of the faerie has no genitals, ribs or belly button, its left the chest looking rather vague. So I wanted something rather dramatic to be placed there. With that in mind I conceived a tentacled structure emerging from the faeries chest. Using the piece of foam shown above as the base, I added curled pieces of heavy gauge wire emerging from the foam. Glue was used to keep them stable. The foam was then completely covered in clay and around the base of each wire, again being glued completely to the chest. 

Once that glue was dry I then proceeded to create clay tentacles extending around the wire and tapering to a point at the end of each wire. I had a number of plastic beads that I'd saved from several broke strands of Mardi Gras beads. They were then inserted into the still wet clay to make each tentacle look like it had suckers. Keep in mind that the color doesn't matter because its all going to be overpainted with black later anyway.

After each tentacle was complete yet another coating of foaming glue was placed over them extending to the foam base. The result was five varying tapered tentacles extending out of his chest. 

Here you can see the final black based tentacles and how much the inset beads make it look like suckers. I do think he's perhaps one of the creepiest pieces I've ever created! 

I've added four additional tentacles to fill out the foam block completely. This should complete the tentacle structure.

Step #10
Building the Wings

If you recall a few steps back I added a heavy gauge wire line that extends down the length of each arm. I've taken the hands off the arms, leaving just the bone structure. To that I added a heavy gauge cross lines to make the wings strong. In the intervening spaces I've added a lighter weight wire (in green) crisscrossing the empty spaces between the heavier wire, thus creating a webbing of sorts. From there I will begin to clay in the wings, raising the clay up where the wire is heavier to give it a flesh feeling. 

Also at this stage (not shown) I've gone back and refilled the foaming glue in various places that got missed in the first gluing. These areas become evident after a day or so because the lighter colored clay creates a dust that shows where the cracks might show up. 

Here is the completed left wing. Clay has been applied both above and below the wire mesh. Ridge lines along the wings were added for effect before foam gluing the whole structure. The whole effect I have to admit is pretty freaking cool.

Here you can see both of the wings in comparison, finished and unfinished. 

The right wing was much more of a problem than the left. The left wing rests close to the left leg and therefore much of the weight is carried by that leg. Because the right leg is arched it eliminates any kind of support for the right wing. Only the joint (in the blue circle) can carry the total weight. So the solution was to completely clay the wing with a prop under the one side to keep it in position. Once the clay was in place, everything was glued with the exception of the area where the prop was located. Once the glue dried hard I then took a small rectangular tile and placed in on the underside of the wing right where the joint was located. It was then clayed over and glue again applied to the rectangle and a second coat on the top side. The final step will be to remove the prop and glue the small area remaining. This should (hypothetically) give the wing enough support to hold it strongly. If I feel it still has any weakness then I will have to come up a further solution. 

The final solution was to add a stay under the end of the wing connected to the wood. The added stability means there is now little chance the wing could be broken off. Here you see the sculpture moved into the lit niche in the studio and side lit to see how its looking so far without a bunch of clutter around it. 

Step #11
Wax Works

I made the decision at the start of this piece not to use acrylics on it, but to make the primary color scheme from metallic wax instead. I wanted to infuse the piece with a feeling other worldliness and wax was the perfect substance to bring the piece together. Here you see the first coloration. The wings will be shades or purple. The torso shades of blues and greens. The tree will be shades of gold, rust, and metallic brown. As you can see the effect is stunning. Once polyurethane is applied the metallics in the wax should pop.

Here the body is 70% colored. Once the color is laid in then I will use metallic acrylics to detail the body and bring out certain aspects of the body.

Step #12

Even though there is some wax work to be done to the tree, I've begun some detailing of the head and the wings. There is an overlay of hi-lite violet over the wings to give it just a tint of pearlescence. The face is a combination of copper, gold and red wax with metallic acrylic highlights.

Here I've begun the detailing of the tentacles.

Here we are about 80% complete. Only the topmost portion of the tree limb needs to be waxed. Most detailing has been done and the finished areas have had at least one coat of polyurethane. 

We are now 90% completed with the piece. The final waxing and detailing for the top portion of the tree is now being worked on. Once that is done, several more coats of polyurethane will be applied. The last step will be to mount a hook from behind which is low enough to allow the sculpture to lay down still, or using the hook, be mounted on a wall laterally.

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