Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Finished haootia quadriformis sculpture

The haootia quadriformis sculpture is finished.  To recap for the benefit of any readers who haven’t read my previous blog posts, haootia quadriformis is a small marine animal similar to (and likely related to) modern jellyfish, which lived 560 million years ago during the Ediacaran period.  

Ediacaran life forms are very interesting to me as a sculptor because they’re just so weird.  Haootia is actually one of the less strange ones, but it still makes for an interesting sculpture.

As I said yesterday I did retouch some of the paint.  I didn't change it very much though, just evened out the colours a bit.  

Here it is from the side.  You can see the haootia's body projecting slightly from the surface of the background, however you can't see the whole body.  Haootia had a little stalk and a disc shaped foot, which is not shown in this sculpture.

I decided against varnishing it, even with matte varnish, because any varnish would change the sculpture's texture and I like the texture as it is.  

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Colouring the haootia sculpture

In yesterday's post I showed you my new haootia quadriformis sculpture.  Last night I got stuck in and painted it.

The big question here was what colour to make it.  Jellyfish are the closest things to haootia that still exist today, and they can sometimes be brightly coloured.  But what about an animal that lived 560 million years ago in the Ediacaran period?  Haootia didn’t have eyes as far as we can tell and neither did anything else around at the time; there’s no fossil evidence for eyes before the Cambrian.  Would Ediacaran life forms have evolved coloured skins when there was nothing that could see them?  Unfortunately we will probably never know, so this is one of those situations where an artist has to use their best judgement.  

I took the conservative approach and used very little colour, just white and indigo.

I may go back and re-touch some of the paint inside the haootia because it's not exactly my best work.  By the time I got to those parts of the sculpture it was late and I had a migraine.  I was determined to finish the job, but I wasn't really feeling it and it shows.  

I'll also give the sculpture a coat of matte or semi-gloss varnish.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Haootia quadriformis sculpture

Haootia quadriformis is a small polyp-type animal which lived around 560 million years ago, and is believed to be one of the first creatures to have muscle tissue.  I’ve wanted to do something with haootia ever since the discovery was published in 2014, but couldn’t work out exactly what I was going to do.

Finally I got the idea to make a small sculpture that emphasises the little animal’s symmetrical body plan.

This is haootia seen from above.  From the fossil evidence it appears to have been cup-shaped, with small tentacles branching off at each of its four corners, so that's what you see in the sculpture.  The sculpture is about life size, maybe slightly bigger.

The following pictures show the haootia fossil discovered in Newfoundland, along with an artist's reconstruction of what it probably looked like when it wasn't squashed flat, and a modern staurozoan (stalked jellyfish), which is possibly a distant relative of haootia and is a similar type of animal.

The two top images show the original haootia fossil from Newfoundland.  Bottom right is an artist's depiction of what it looked like in life, and bottom left is a staurozoan, a similar type of animal which is still around today.  Picture from The Economist.

I used these pictures to determine how my haootia sculpture should look.  I should point out we don't know exactly what haootia looked like inside.  The Newfoundland fossil doesn't show evidence of any clearly defined structures inside the animal, so I went with a very simple shape.  Modern polyps have a mouth and the body of the polyp forms a stomach cavity.  I assume haootia absorbed nutrients through the walls of its body cavity, but the fossil shows no sign of a mouth.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

The bone triptych

I've mounted and framed the three panels of my Bone Triptych, which means I've glued them onto a board and put it in a frame so I can hang the whole thing on my wall, and I've finally gotten around to taking some photos.  

I really enjoyed doing this set of three related images.  This is something I haven't done before, but it's certainly something I would do again in the future.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Time for some colour

The thing about paper sculpture is that it looks totally different when it's painted.  Paint usually emphasizes the sculpture's contours, though it can sometimes obscure some of the details.  The kind of sculpture I make is intended to be painted, and really needs paint in order to work.

This is what my bone sculpture looks like now it's painted:

With bone, I think the secret to getting a satisfactory colour is using many thin layers of paint.  I use acrylic paints, which tend to be fairly flat and don't have the kind of depth that oil paints have.  Acrylic paints are cheap and convenient, but creating a painted surface with good depth and complexity using acrylics requires a bit of work.  This panel with the cross section of a femur has up to seven layers of paint in places.

Panel one

That texture you can see there underneath the femur is done with paint, just to make the panel a bit more interesting.  I've got a tube of Payne's Grey that's kind of old and claggy and it makes some great impasto effects, of which this is an example.

The other two panels use much the same process of layered paint, with some red to highlight the Haversian canals which carry nerves and blood vessels in real bone.

Close up of panel two

Close up of panel three

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Osteons, again

Like the last post, this one is about osteons.  Actually they're the same osteons I posted last time, but with a greater level of magnification.  The point is that we're looking at the same thing, at successively higher levels of magnification.

They don't look a lot like bone right now, but that's largely because they're blue.  The first layer of paint is blue because I find using a blue undercoat helps to create a satisfactory creamy bone colour.  That'll be the next stage in the project.

All three panels with their first layer of paint.

Close up of panel number three, which I hadn't started on last time I posted.

As I said earlier, I'm interested in the shapes of osteons that you can see in a piece of bone under a scanning electron microscope.  They look almost abstract and are highly textured.  Under very high magnification, osteons are made up of concentric rings of bone tissue, full of small holes and little channels, which is what I've depicted in panels two and three.  Here's a photo of the real thing for comparison:

Picture from Dartmouth

Panel two was done freehand, but since panel three is a magnified version of part of panel two I drew the shapes on a piece of paper, and then sculpted them.

They're made of paper and glue.  It turns out paper is a good medium to portray the concentric rings of an osteon.

This project will rely heavily on colour to bring out the shapes of the bone structure, so my task now is to paint the three panels.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016


Last time I posted I talked about a project I'm doing inspired by what bone looks like under a microscope.

If you recall the first panel has the whole cross section of the femur, slightly magnified, and looks like this:

This second panel is the same thing magnified again, so you can see the circular osteons inside the bone itself.

Panel number three will be the osteons magnified yet again.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Trying some ideas for a new project

When you look at the natural world, and particularly when you look at it under a microscope, it starts to look very abstract.

This image, for example, isn't a piece of contemporary art, it's a cross section of bone seen under a microscope.

Compact bone, from human femur. Bone is made up of two types of tissue: the compact bone forms a shell around the spongy cancellous bone that makes up the marrow space in the centre. Compact bone provides strength and rigidity and is solid in appearance. It is composed of a layered matrix of organic substances and inorganic salts that form around an intricate network of vasculature called Haversian canals.  Credit: Ivor Mason, KCL, Wellcome Images.:
Image from

This is the same thing at an even greater magnification.  These round structures with the little holes in the middle are called osteons, which are essentially the building blocks of bone.

COMPACT BONE. in electron microscope. looks like weird sand dunes. central hole, haversian canal obvious. lacuna are the tinier holes:
Image from

I've been playing around with three little panels showing cross sections of a femur at progressively greater levels of magnification.

Panel number one is a cross section showing the compact bone around the outside, and the spongy bone in the center of the femur where the marrow sits.  This piece is made from paper and plaster.

The next one is all paper, and shows the osteons in the compact bone, like that second picture I showed in this post.  It's very much a work in progress at this stage, but hopefully you can get some idea of what it will be like.

I'll talk about the third panel another time, because so far I don't really have anything there to talk about.  What I'd like to achieve is something that captures the abstract look of bone structure under a microscope - something that's all about colour and shape. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Just for fun

No, I haven't abandoned this blog, nor have I stopped making sculpture.   I've just been really,  really slack about posting.  For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me I've been having something of a creative dry spell and I have a largish project that I started on, but which just doesn't seem to be coming together.  Eventually I thought screw it, I'll just play around with some fun things instead.

One result of this was a number of little paper beads made to look like shark vertebrae.

Shark vertebrae have a really cool texture along the side, made from tiny bone septa (ridges).  This is primarily what attracts me to them; the texture is interesting and I wanted to see if I could reproduce it in paper.

For comparison, here are some real shark vertebrae.  The little holes you see in the picture are where the vertebral spines would have attached when the shark was alive.  I included vertebral spines on the ones I made.

Image found here.