Thursday, 31 July 2014

The fish skull, now that I've finished sculpting it

Last time I showed you the fish skull, it needed to have the mandible and gill covers attached.  Now it has the gill covers and is all finished, apart from painting.

It's that colour because I put it on top of the fire to dry and left it there a bit too long.

I did refer to pictures of fish skulls when I was making the skull, but I haven't copied any particular type of fish.  I more or less made the skull up as I went along.  It's not quite as symmetrical as I would like, but I'll solve that problem by mounting it with only one side visible, and I still think it's pretty metal.

Now all I need is the rest of the fish.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Making a fish skull

This weekend I started making a fish skull.  Why?  Because I can.  It's not yet finished, but hopefully you can get an idea of what it will look like once it is.

Why does it have a little opening on top of the skull?  Well, that would be eye socket number three.  It's not actually that unusual for fish and other animals to have three eyes.

The secret to making delicate paper mache shapes like this is regular, garden variety tinfoil.  A piece of tinfoil makes an ideal support for the paper mache, and can be folded or crumpled into any shape.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Interesting fish

I love fish, and not just on a plate with fennel and oregano.  I like to visit aquariums and go snorkeling while on holiday, and I have three goldfish at home.  I like to watch them swimming around, and so does the cat.

Artistically, I find fish fins very interesting to make.  Their skeletal anatomy is very interesting too, but I've never made a fish skeleton.  Time to change that, I think.  My next project is going to explore fish anatomy.  I'm thinking I might actually do two fish.  You've probably seen the black swallower; most of the internet has.  This deep sea fish is famous for its ability to swallow things larger than its own body.  Occasionally it overreaches itself and tries to eat something just that little bit too big.

Image from

Fish are greedy little buggers and the black swallower is by no means unique in trying to eat things that turn out to be too big for it.  This fossil from the Green River Formation is an Eocene period fish that died when it tried to swallow another fish that was too big to get down its throat.  It wasn't able to spit out the smaller fish.

Green River fossil fish
Image from

I'm pretty sure I've also seen a Devonian fossil fish that met its end the same way, but I can't find it on the net.  Anyway, I think "fish meets a sticky end as a result of over-ambitious eating" might be an interesting sculpture theme.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Finally finished!

Well, here it is.  The harpy now has a base to sit on, which is a major improvement.  The shape and weight distribution of the head mean that it can't stand up on its own, and needs a base to support it.

Another advantage of mounting the harpy on a base is that it prevents the crest of feathers at the back of the sculpture's head from getting squashed.  The crest looks much better displayed this way.

Originally I was going to put a quote from Aeschylus' Eumenides around the base, but sometimes less is more and I decided it looks better as it is.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The Mondrian frieze, continued

Here's that Mondrian-inspired frieze for the base my harpy head will sit on.  Next time, I'll post photos of the harpy mounted on its nice new base.  Then you'll get a proper look at the base.

People sometimes think abstract art is meaningless, and sometimes they're right.  There are artists who use labels like "abstract" or "conceptual" to gloss over the fact that they don't really have any interesting ideas.  But good abstract art is never meaningless, and mine isn't meaningless either.  The decorative panel contains my signature, written in code.  If you want to decode it, here's the frieze in its entirety:

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Colours, textures, and a bit of Mondrian

My last post was all about scut-work, but happily I have something more exciting to talk about today.  I've always loved Mondrian's paintings of trees and his later abstract works inspired by trees, and because I've been looking at them a bit lately I got the idea to do a similar kind of thing on the base for the harpy.  The Mondrian-esque frieze will be wrapped around the base and uses green and blue colours similar to the colours of the harpy's feathers.  With this in mind, I decided it made sense to use feathers as the starting point for my abstraction, not trees.

Because it's going to be a sculpture base, I'm concentrating on making my feather panel decorative.   I like to think it has a certain Art Deco elegance.  It's years since I've done full-on abstraction, and I'd forgotten how much fun it can be.  I really should do it more often.

I don't know what you'd call this technique - maybe a collage or mosaic.  What I've done is applied different surface treatments to some cardboard and used them to form the pattern.  When finished it will only be 62cm long by 4cm wide, but it's taking longer than I anticipated because the pieces are so small.  

Friday, 11 July 2014

Now, I admit it doesn't look all that great right now

Actually,  I get a kick out of how ugly these things look before they're finished. I like the fact that underneath the elegant facade (well, that's the idea anyway) is a core of corrugated cardboard salvaged from my combustible rubbish pile.

This is the start of a pedestal-type base for my harpy project, and I'm hoping that it will be interesting when it's finished.  Because the harpy is a monster from Greek mythology, I thought it made sense to mount it on a base that borrows design elements from Greek architecture.

I'll tidy the base up, paint it, and put a decorative frieze around it, but I realise it doesn't look very exciting right now.

It looks even scruffier underneath:

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The harpy, now with feathers

Well, here it is.  Looks like a little punk rocker, doesn't it?

I'll finish it off by making a display base for it.  I had such a good time making the mermaid base that I'll be doing a similar kind of thing for the harpy.

Friday, 4 July 2014


Take a look at this picture.  Can you see the problem with it?

Of course you can.  The feather is just stuck into the skin surface.  It doesn't look like it belongs there and it certainly didn't grow there.  Compare that with this photo:

Once again you're looking right at the point where the feathers are glued into the skin, and you can see it looks much better.  Obviously it helps having more than one feather in place, but the main reason it looks so much better is that I've wrapped a sliver of paper around the shaft of each feather and blended this little paper bump into the surrounding skin.

In this photo, the glue is not yet dry and the paper hasn't been painted to match the skin, so you can see how the technique works.

This technique works because it imitates the follicles that real feathers grow out of.  It also helps to insert the feathers on a slight angle.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The harpy in colour

In some ways I'm quite excited to see what the harpy will look like painted.  I have a feeling it will be much better with some colour.  White really doesn't suit it.

Let's take a look:

Yeah, much better.  I like how the eyes contrast with the brown, desiccated skin.  Now I've painted the head its eyelashes are much less obvious, and that's how they should be.  They aren't supposed to be the center of attention, they're supposed to be the kind of detail you might not notice immediately.

Before it was painted, I thought it had a kind of "Dr. Seuss" look to it.  Now I think it looks more "George Romero".  That's a good thing.  Dr. Seuss is awesome, but not what I had in mind for this project.

I'm playing around with the idea of giving it feathers.  I won't cover the whole head in feathers, but maybe I will give it a feather crest.  Perhaps something a bit like the crest on a bald ibis.