Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Yes, you can make translucent membranes with paper mache

Interior of dragon's chest showing heart, lungs, and air sac membranes.

Last time I discussed my dragon project, I'd finished the lungs and needed some air sacs to go with them.  Bird air sacs are basically membranes, and membranes are basically translucent.  Paper isn't.  Therefore, I had to make the paper translucent.  You can do this by rubbing grease on it (remember Dr Nick from The Simpsons: "if the paper turns clear, it's your window to weight gain"), but grease was obviously out of the question.  Happily, grease isn't the only thing that turns paper clear.  Polyurethane will do it too.

What you're looking at there is a piece of toilet paper that's been coated with polyurethane.  It's not entirely clear, but it is translucent and also has a nice membranous texture.  Perfect.  Getting this effect is as simple as putting the paper on a sheet of plastic, brushing on a good thick layer of polyurethane, and letting it dry.  Once it's dry you can carefully peel it off the plastic sheet and you have your membrane.  You'll find you have the devil's own job getting it off the plastic backing, but just be patient.

Here are the two posterior air sacs prior to being inserted into the chest cavity.  They have their little corrosion cast veins in place and are all ready to be superglued inside the chest cavity.

Now, all I have to do is paint the dragon's skin and it'll be finished.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy holidays everyone!

People celebrate a lot of holidays around this time of year; Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.  Of course, here in New Zealand we mostly celebrate the fact that we get statutory holidays for Christmas and New Year.  

Whatever you're celebrating, I hope you and your family are enjoying it, and I wish you all the best for 2014.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The dragon's heart

Here's the heart of my dragon, along with its lungs and the air sac that sits behind the trachea (there will be seven air sacs, as in a bird).  Next time, I'll explain about the air sacs and how I get around the problem of simulating membranes with paper mache.

Photographed in my hand to show size.

Usually I use a lot more Payne's grey for corrosion cast blood vessels, but in this case I've used mainly cadmium red so they'll stand out in the dark chest cavity.  I have cheated a bit with the blood vessels; as you can see they're modelled off a human circulatory system, not an avian one.  I didn't have a good anatomical diagram showing how a bird's heart and lungs are connected, so I figured that since birds have a four-chambered heart like humans the plumbing system couldn't be all that different. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

Corrosion cast dragon parts

You may be wondering why there's a sodding great hole in my dragon's underbelly.  Good question!  The hole is there so you can look at the preserved internal organs.  I want to put preserved organs in the chest cavity, in the style of an anatomical specimen.

Here's the chest cavity with the ribcage visible inside.

Bird lungs are fascinating.  The lung itself is quite small, but it has several large air sacs attached to it.  These air sacs extend right down the body cavity and even into the bird's bones.  This is a trait that birds inherited from their dinosaurian ancestors, so it stands to reason that a dragon which evolved from theropods in parallel with birds would have them too.  It's not just theropods that had these lungs, analysis of sauropod bones shows that they had air sacs in their bones too - there are some cool open access journal articles on this phenomenon here and here.  Having these air sacs makes a bird's bones lighter, and means the bird can oxygenate its blood more efficiently (it was also one of the reasons why sauropods could grow so enormous).

I want my dragon to have this same system of lungs and air sacs, preserved inside the chest.  First up, I've got a pair of lungs attached to a trachea, and the system of veins that will attach the lungs to the heart.  The veins are a separate piece which I'll put in place once I've painted the lungs.

The lungs are quite small, but they're supposed to be.  Bird lungs are small because most of the air is stored in the air sacs.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The dragon tail is giving me some problems

Here's how my dragon's tail started out: 

I like the spiny back of the beast, but not the spiny tail.  For me the best way to deal with a situation like this is to leave the project for a day or so and then come back to it.  So I did, and I quickly realised what I didn't like about the original tail.  It's too irregular and too asymmetrical, and all those spines are just a bit much.  So I pulled out a lot of the spines and cut some of them down, and replaced the ones I pulled out with smaller nodules like the ones I used on the back of the neck.  Much better!

I think I will put a single long spine on the tip of the tail.

Why are some of the spines brown?  Well, that's because I sped up the drying process by putting them in the bottom of the oven while I baked some bread.  They're a little burnt because the temperature I use for bread is really a bit hot for paper mache.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Experimenting with Sculpt Nouveau

Remember how I said I got some Sculpt Nouveau metal coating to try?  This weekend I had a play with it.  I'd like to show you some photos and share my thoughts about Sculpt Nouveau, because it really is an exciting medium to work with.  Here's the final result of my first experiment:

Final result: two coats of Sculpt Nouveau brass coating over primer.

What you're looking at there is brass coating on a cast paper leaf (they're fun to make and I'll post a tutorial soon).  At first I applied two coats of brass coating to the leaf.  It had a nice colour, but it wasn't as rich and vibrant as I'd like.  The next photo shows my first attempt, with brass Sculpt Nouveau applied directly over paper.  As you can see, it's okay when photographed with a flash...

...but when photographed without a flash it's decidedly underwhelming:

In fact, the surface has a dull greenish tone to it.  At this point I realised where I'd gone wrong.  You see, this is what you get when you apply gold leaf over white.  Medieval artists who made illuminated manuscripts used to paint a red undercoat before they applied their gold leaf, because the red shines through the thin gold and gives it a nice rich gold tone.  So, off I went to the hardware store for some red primer.

When the primer dried I applied another two coats of brass coating, plus a coat of clear gloss to seal the brass coating.  It's important to use a coat of sealer with this stuff, otherwise it will corrode over time.  The end result of my little experiment is shown in that first photo at the top of the post. 

At this stage I haven't had a play with patinas, because I wanted to see what the Sculpt Nouveau looks like on its own.  However, these metal coatings are designed to be used with patinas and it's possible to create some amazing effects by applying patinas.  The Sculpt Nouveau company has a YouTube channel with tutorials on how to use the coatings, and I highly recommend you check it out.  There are some great videos on how to use metal coatings with different patinas.

Sculpt Nouveau is very convenient and easy to use, since you simply paint it on.  I bought the B formula, which is water-soluble in its liquid state, and this means you can clean your brushes with water and detergent as you would with an acrylic paint.  Just don't let it dry on the brush because I promise you, once that stuff is dry it's not going anywhere.

Interestingly, the leaf feels heavy and cold to the touch.  Sculpt Nouveau contains powdered metal, so what I have here is essentially a paper sculpture coated in brass.  For obvious reasons, this is a very exciting innovation for artists who work with paper.  I can't wait to try some patinas with this stuff!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Skin texture

Last night I had a wee think about how I want my dragon's skin to look.  I decided against the traditional scales.  Instead, I want a horny, spiky kind of texture on the areas where the skin would be thicker, such as the animal's back and flanks.  Where the skin would be thinner, I've made it slightly wrinkled and pebbly.  I didn't get too far with it because I had to make a bunch of little spikes and then leave them to dry, but here you can see the beginnings of this skin effect:

The dromaeosaurs that my sculpture is based on had feathers.  However, I won't be using any feathers.  Instead I've made small spikes out of paper and glued them onto the skin.  Between the spikes I've put bumps and nodules of varying sizes.  The skin effect is partly inspired by this picture from All Yesterdays:

Yes, I know: ceratopsians aren't theropods and I specifically said I was going for something that looked like it evolved from theropods.  It's called artistic license, and if it's good enough for Naish et al it's good enough for me.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Shopping with barnes.com.au

I've been desperate to get my hands on some Sculpt Nouveau for a while now.  I've had trouble finding a supplier because no one in New Zealand seems to stock it.  In the end I ordered some from www.barnes.com.au in Australia.  If you're in the Antipodes, I highly recommend Barnes.  The customer service is fantastic, the prices are very competitive, and my stuff arrived the day after I ordered it.

The great thing about Barnes is that they're a specialist sculpting supplies store.  I get sculpting supplies from all kinds of places, but there are some products that only a specialist store will stock.  Barnes has a good selection of all these items, and the staff will be happy to answer any queries you have.  They know their products.  In fact, the website actually gives you a brief description of each product, complete with information on the item's properties and the sort of applications it's most suitable for. 

Next to the awesome customer service, the product descriptions are my favourite thing about Barnes.  You can select stiff clays, or soft clays, or waxy clays, and decide whether you want polyester resin or acrylic resin or epoxy resin, all by simply reading the product description.  This means you can buy with confidence, because you know what you're getting.

So what did I buy?  Um, well, quite a lot actually, but let's take a look at the Sculpt Nouveau.

Sculpt Nouveau in brass, bronze, and silver formulations.  $17.60 each from Barnes.com.au 


Sculpt Nouveau isn't exactly a paint, and it isn't exactly a metal plating product.  It's a composite material made by suspending metal particles in a binder medium.  Some formulations dry hard enough to be polished with a grinder, and all are waterproof when they dry.  You simply apply it like a paint, and when it dries you have a metal surface that you can burnish and patina just like any other metal surface because, and this is the mindblowingly cool bit, it is a metal surface. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Moa dragon feet

Yeah, I know it's an awful pun, but I couldn't resist it.  I talked about how my dragon project's feet were based on raptor feet before, but of course we only have bones to go on with raptors.  I based the soft tissue of the feet on moa (Megalapteryx) feet.  There are a few mummified moa foot specimens, so I had a good look at the soft tissue on those. 

Picture from Wikipedia

The moa didn't have the big "killing claw" seen on dromaeosaurids, and which I used for my dragon, but it does have quite a similar structure.  There are four toes, one of which is positioned like a dew claw, and the foot has a pad of tissue to help the animal walk.  Here's another mummified moa leg, though it isn't in as good condition as the last one:

Picture from The Tyrannosaur Chronicles

See how the skin on the ankle has that great pebbly texture?  Expect to see similar textures on my dragon legs when they're finished.  And how is the dragon doing so far?  Well, the legs are in place and I've given the claws a coat of paint.  Now I just need to make a tail and apply some nice skin texture.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Dragon feet

These feet were fiddly and time consuming.  Partly this was because I changed my mind about what I wanted the toe proportions to be so I ripped the feet apart and changed them.  But I think it's worth taking the extra time to do these things properly.  With that in mind, today's post is dedicated to dragon feet.  Here we have a close up showing the toes and skin texture, and the little pad of tissue at the back of the foot that the animal would walk on:

Here we have it from a slightly different angle:

Here are both the feet:

And here's a close up of the big raptor toe, which gives you a good look at the knuckles and skin texture: