Yesterday’s post took a look at a few methods for making quick maquettes for landscape forms like snow and sand. Maquettes are also a big help for painting architecture, because they give you those little accidental effects of lighting and texture that you would never dream up. In this post I’ll share some studio tricks for architectural maquettes.
This model, which I made for a painting in the first Dinotopia book, is constructed from plaster-soaked burlap for the mountain forms, and mat board for the buildings, assembled with a hot glue gun. The whole thing is coated with gesso and colored with acrylic.
This corner of Waterfall City has about four days of work in it. It served as reference for several different paintings in The World Beneath and Chandara. It's made from cardboard, styrofoam, and two-part epoxy putty for the sculptural details. The original maquette is currently on view in the Dinotopia exhibition at the Los Angeles Public Library.
I made this little model for a painting of Chandara, but I’ve had it kicking around the studio, and I’ve used it in other ways. Here the light is tinted with a blue gel to suggest moonlight. The rough texture in the foreground is the broken surface of the styrofoam. I took the photo with a digital SLR set to a high f-stop and a long time exposure to give it maximum depth of field. Printed out on paper, the photo was one of many that provided a starting point for a painting of the desert city of Khasra in the new book. The trees are bits of dried moss from my backyard.
This 45-minute clay maquette also helped with Khasra. It shows how quick and loose an architectural maquette can be and still give you plenty of lighting information. Note the beautiful light bouncing into the shadows on the right side. The shadows on the tower on the extreme right are much darker because they lack reflected light. That's the kind of information I'm interested in.
The arch here is hot-glued from foam-core and mat board, with domes of styrofoam balls. I coated the structure with gesso and modeling paste and painted it in acrylic. I set up the model alongside toy wooden blocks as a kind of 3-D sketch for the marketplace scene below. A miniature set like this can be placed under an artificial spotlight or outdoors in direct sunlight.
The silver Christmas tree ball provides a record of the entire surrounding light environment. You need this information to really understand the combined effects of various light sources on any given object in the scene. If you look closely at the reflection in the silver ball you can see the arched window and skylights of my studio, and my own dome behind the camera. If the photo had been taken in outdoor light, the light effects would be slightly different, and so would the reflection in the silver ball.
Many of these methods of using miniatures are low-budget home versions of techniques used in the film special effects industry. They really don’t take much time—you can build and shoot a model in half a day—but they yield great dividends in your final results.