Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Glykon's head

The last couple of posts have been a detour into the exciting world of home furnishings, but don't worry - I haven't forgotten about Glykon.  I typically have several projects on the go at once because of the drying times involved, and because I have a short attention span.

Here's how Glykon looks now

Last time I posted about Glykon, he looked like he was wearing glasses.  I've built up those small ridges around the eyes to make eyesockets and cheekbones, and rounded out the jaw where it meets the head.  I've then pasted tissue on top to form the skin.  Here's a close up of me adding skin over top of the structure:

The pebbly scales from the body have been carried up onto the head, and I've made ear holes using the gimlet.  They have a little fold of tissue around them, but I really wanted Glykon's ears to look reptilian, so I didn't make human-type ears.  To me the shape suggests a human ear, but looks vestigial - maybe like it was trying to be a human ear and didn't quite make it.


Monday, 28 January 2013

So just how do you make a chair out of cardboard?

UPDATE:  Since I wrote this post I've made a lot of progress on the cardboard chair, and here's what it looks like now:

From a purely geometrical point of view, an elephant foot stool is just a cylinder with toenails and skin.  So far, so easy.  All that’s needed is a sturdy internal support to go inside the foot, and the skin can be added on top.  The skin doesn’t need to be load-bearing at all, since that’s the job of the internal structure.  So what would make a good internal structure?  Well, I’ve always been fascinated by cardboard furniture, so I’m going to go with approximately one zillion linear meters of corrugated cardboard and old magazines, rolled into a tight cylinder.  If, like me, you work for a government department you may be able to find a stack of work publications you can turn into furniture.  The story goes that at Treasury they used to ski down piles of old Statements of Intent and I know Internal Affairs used to have boxes of the things piled in a corridor.

Believe it or not, this is overkill.  Ask your favourite engineer, and they’ll tell you that a cardboard cylinder like this is more than capable of supporting a grown adult’s weight.  As you can see, I've got the photos to prove it.  The reason you only see feet in this photo is that they're my feet, and I'm the one taking the photo.

Once the cardboard is all rolled up, it gets duct taped to within an inch of its life, because you can never have too much duct tape, and I twist some wire strapping around it.  This primarily gives the paper clay something to grip on to.  Duct tape is what's stopping this sucker from unrolling.

The appeal of cardboard furniture largely relies on the novelty value of combining two concepts that don't normally belong together, but in fact it's a very practical idea and there are a surprisingly large number of companies that sell cardboard furniture.  But why pay when you don't have to?  Go forth!  Scrounge some cardboard boxes and oufit your living room.  Fascinate your kids and horrify your significant other with the magic of cardboard furniture.  You can always blame me.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

OMG you guys, I need one of these!

Image courtesy of Christie's

It's an elephant's foot that's been stuffed and turned into a small stool.  Really quite disturbing and revolting, no?  I want one.
I do not, however, want a real one.  I take the view that real elephant feet should ideally be attached to real elephants.  I think we all know where this is going...

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Putting Sculpey teeth in a mouth

Normally I add paint after I finish my sculptures, but a mouth with Sculpey teeth in it is one of those things that are best done in layers.  This is because it's impossible to paint inside a finished mouth without also painting the teeth, some of which sit right next to the lips.  Working from the inside out sidesteps this problem entirely.

First up, I paint the gums and inside the mouth.  Then, I use painted tissue to build up the inside of the cheeks and lips.

After that, the lips need to be given some shape from the outside, and I have to make eyes and nostrils.  In this case, I do so by cutting holes in the head and building up flesh around them, so it looks like they are real orifices.  Here's a delightful photo of me making nostrils with a gimlet.  Those rings that look like a big pair of glasses are there to mark out where the eyesockets will be.

Remember folks, the gimlet is your friend.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Glykon's teeth

Sculpting a head is my reward for persevering with all those tedious scales.  The head is always my favourite thing to sculpt, because that's where most of the personality is.  When I start these things I know roughly what they will look like, but I don't know exactly how all the small details will shape up, and getting a sense of personality is all about the tiny details. 

I also enjoy making teeth.  Glykon now has jaws and a full set of teeth.  There are not quite as many as you get in a human mouth, because I ran out of room.  No matter; the molars will be inside the finished mouth anyway.

The teeth are made individually and glued to the jaw with Selleys' All Fix, a great product which I highly recommend.  Unlike super glue, All Fix is a stiff paste that allows you to position your teeth and wiggle them around before it sets.  The stuff is thick enough that it'll hold them in position all by itself until it dries.

I'm very happy with the colour of these teeth, which are made from translucent Sculpey that's been baked for five minutes longer (and a few degrees hotter) than the packet recommends.  If you're familiar with Sculpey you probably know the lighter colours can burn if you're not careful when you bake them; this is what it looks like when that happens.  Just perfect for old, slightly yellowy teeth!  You can also paint Sculpey after baking, but for my money this is the best way to get that authentic discoloured look.

As you can see, I paint inside the mouth as I go along.  It makes life so much easier.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Still doing scales

Remember how when you were a kid your mum made you take music lessons and you had to practice scales ad nauseam?  Making a snake tail is kind of like that in some ways.  There are always far more scales than you expect when you start on the project.
Happily the end result of this project is not like the awful noises I used to make with a violin.  It's far more satisfying, and probably doesn't violate any public decency by-laws.  This is a view of the project's underside, so you can see the large oblong scales on the snake's belly.  I haven't rounded off the body too much because I want it looking old and dessicated and a bit squashed.


Hopefully soon I can get on to my favourite bit, which is the head, but in the meantime it's all scales, scales, scales.  Hey-ho.

All this brings us to an important question that I'd like to address today: how do you, as a sculptor with a short attention span, deal with those sections of the build that are repetitive and which you don't particularly like?

I find the TV* to be quite helpful here.  I use it to distract me while I do the work - preferrably something I've seen before or something cheesy-but-entertaining because this method won't work so well if you use something that takes up too much of your concentration.  A handy side benefit of this approach is that it means I have to clear all the crap off the coffee table.  I know; I should do that more often, but every time I clear it off all that happens is that it gets covered in crap again.  Usually within five minutes.  What's the point of that?

*When I say "TV" I generally mean a DVD or YouTube, but you'll want to go with whatever works for you.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Paper mache snake scales

Today, Glykon's snake tail is getting scales.  There are a lot of ways to do scales with paper mache, and it really depends on what kind of scale effect you want.  Dan the Monster Man uses folded cloth to make amazing spiky scales.  Janet Juarez uses irregular cardboard cut-out scales with a paper layer over top to create an effect that's more subtle, but just as impressive.  I want subtle pebbly scales, so I'm going for paper pulp scales with a paper layer over top.

This isn't the first time I've made paper pulp scales.  This time, however, I'd like rounder, smoother scales.  When finished, they look like this:

They start life as tiny, squishy little balls of pulp like this...

...and are then stuck onto the snake before being papered over with a layer of tissue.

There are larger scales on the snake's back, small ones on the sides, and large oblong ones under its belly.  The key to getting good scales is making sure the shapes and sizes reflect what you'd see on a real animal.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Stage one of the reptile man head project involves making the armature.  In this case I've used no. 8 wire, part of an old Yellow Pages, and paper pulp.  The ball for the head will sit where the brain case would be if the thing were alive, and it's supported on a snakey tail. 

Initially I only intended to make a head, but somewhere along the way it turned into Glykon.  If you’re not familiar with Glykon, get yourself settled comfortably because it’s a great story.  If you enjoy the kind of content I typically post on here, I have a hunch you’ll enjoy this story too. 

Glykon was an ancient Greek snake god whose responsibilities included healing, prophesy, and fertility.  Glykon’s chief prophet was a guy named Alexander of Abonoteichus, a cult leader who foretold the god’s manifestation on earth and organised the worship of this new deity.  The story goes that Alexander cut open an egg and a tiny snake crawled out.  The snake grew to the size of a man, and developed human facial features.  It could speak, and foretell the future, and - most importantly - it was a very hands on type of god.  People could go to the temple and meet Glykon in real life.  Not just a statue of the god either; they could see the actual god slithering around the temple. 

Enter Lucian of Samosata: writer, skeptic, and in many ways the 2nd century equivalent of Mythbusters.  Lucian investigated the cult and didn’t take long to expose Alexander as a fraud.  Alexander was the kind of dodgy cult leader familiar to modern audiences from such disasters as Waco and the Children of God, while Glykon itself was simply a pet snake with a puppet on its head.  You can read Lucian’s expose here.  It’s not very long but it is very funny.

Alexander didn’t take this at all well and tried to have Lucian killed, but in the end he needn’t have bothered.  The Glykon scam continued to separate fools from their money long after Lucian had debunked it, because some people really will believe anything no matter how ridiculous it is or how often it's been disproved. 

Fun fact: Glykon still has worshippers today, apparently including Alan Moore (yes, that Alan Moore).  Go figure.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Fun with hallucinations

As those of you who follow along regularly will have guessed by now, I hallucinate frequently.  However, I don’t actually do a lot of drugs - this is an entirely unassisted process.  I’m talking about hypnagogic hallucinations, which most people experience from time to time when they’re not quite asleep and yet not quite awake.  They happen to me fairly often when my sleeping pattern is disturbed.  Because my natural sleep cycle is between 4am and 10am, but my desire to pay the mortgage and not starve dictates that I get up and go to work in the mornings, my sleeping pattern is disturbed every weekday.  This means I often start my day by seeing something that isn’t there.
Today’s was a real doozy.  It was a head.  Clearly not a human head, but human-like and with a large set of startlingly human teeth visible in its open mouth.  It was in many ways a reptilian looking head; the nose was essentially a snake-like snout and the ear was a vestigial hole with just a small fold of skin around it, and the skin appeared to be partially covered in pebbly scales.  I love this head!  I want to make it as a specimen for my collection.  Watch this space, and I’ll show you what I saw when I was in the process of waking up this morning.
I can only imagine how frightening this sort of thing must have been for our ancestors who didn’t understand what caused it, and it’s no surprise a lot of them thought something supernatural was going on.  Check out this article for a fascinating discussion of how people in the pre-scientific era tried to explain some of the weird things our bodies do when we sleep.  Even today, a disturbingly large number of people attribute these experiences to ghosts, demons or extraterrestrials.  It's easy to laugh at people who confuse sleep paralysis with alien abduction, but just imagine what it would be like to live in a time when the only explanation anybody had was "Aaaargh, demons!"
File:Johann Heinrich Füssli - The Nightmare - WGA08332.jpg
"The Nightmare" by Henry Fuseli illustrates a common 18th century belief about sleep paralysis.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Sometimes it's great to be a sculptor

Times like today, when I've got a nice new tablet case.  

The front

The back.  You may recognize the sea foam pattern from a previous post.

Tablet cases - especially hard cases - are ridiculously expensive despite being mass produced from inexpensive materials, and I refuse to pay for one.  Making this one cost me nothing, but it's tough, durable and awesome.  Look, it even folds out into a little stand!