Friday, July 3, 2009

Utopiales Poster, Part 3: Maquette

When it comes to building a maquette, there’s always a little voice inside me that says, “You can skip this step. You’ve got a good enough idea where you’re going. You can pull it off.”

Sometimes I struggle to overcome that voice, especially with a pressing deadline. But I once I start sculpting, I always have fun, and later I’m always glad I did it. In the end it saves time and yields better results.

For this “Lepidopter” maquette (thanks for the name, Sean and Moai!) I had to decide between glue gun-and-cardboard or sculpted polymer clay. The former would have given it a more flat geometric look, but I wanted to get that organic insect look.

Here’s the armature, twisted together out of thin aluminum wire. It doesn’t look like anything yet, but actually all the lengths are carefully measured against the elevation drawing I showed you at the end of yesterday’s post.

Those four loops will hold the wings and allow them to be poseable. I start blobbing on regular white Sculpey until I bulk out the body.

As I get to the outer layer and the thin parts, like the tail and the legs, I switch to Effect Fimo. When this special kind of polymer clay cures, it become slightly translucent and flexible, about as flexible as a fingernail. That way a delicate part won’t break if you drop the thing (which I do often).

The window details are built up with little slivers of Fimo, using a toothpick and an Xacto knife as sculpting tools. The maquette is only detailed on the side I’ll see; the far side is not finished at all. I cured the fuselage in the oven before painting and assembling the wings.

Then I drew the wings on tracing paper and made two sets Xerox copies, forward and reversed, on card stock. I used a waxer on both sides and laminated the layers together so that the veining pattern lined up. With the intermediate layer of beeswax between the card stock sandwich, the wing will hold any airfoil camber.

Then I epoxied the wings onto the wing struts and painted the fuselage with craft acrylics—the cheap liquid kind you get at the big box craft stores. I actually like the opacity and flow of this stuff more than artist acrylics.

Here it is. The wings look too much like an actual butterfly right now, but I’ll change them a little to look like they were fabricated by the same mind that built the rest of the aircraft.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about lighting and photographing the maquette.

Part 1: Initial Sketches
Part 2: Researching Insect Flight

Part 3: Maquette

Part 7: The Painting


Steve said...

This is so cool. Great to see the waxer and wood clothespins step in to do their part. You wrote about overcoming the "little voice" of resistance. So, how long did the maquette-building take?

eric said...

class, class, class, haha.

love the video, very classy with the music there. you are also becoming quite a decent video and sound editor, that can only mean more great "how to" videos for us in the future i hope! awsome stuff!

Ginger*:) said...

Your skill at sculpting is amazing. Thank you for the step by step. It is often a step I also wish to escape, but seeing the value of creating one I know I will be more determined to make my own. After all, how many African elephants can I find in my back yard.

The technique you used for the wings really motivates me!

Andrew said...

Hah, great stuff!

Seeing you show a step by step process has been incredibly enlightening, and I want to thank you for showing us a look at your thoughts as you go along on a project.

I'm surprised the folks over at Gnomon hadn't snagged you yet for a video!

Jean Spitzer said...

This continues to be fascinating. I wish I'd known about the more flexible fimo years ago, when I was custom-making toy models for my daughter (she likes Care bears, but they weren't then available).

jeff jordan said...

Somewhere in my old inspirational scrapbooks from many years ago is a sidebar page from a Thomas Hart Benton article, showing the entire process of his Persephone painting, one of my favorites. I guess he did it for all his paintings. Very similar process, great to see it applied to sci-fi needs. And it's always nice to break up the painting regimen with a bit of sculpture.

Time well spent!

jeff jordan said...

Jim--at what point do you bake the Sculpey? Do you take it to finish, then bake? Or get real close and do fine tuning after it's baked?

James Gurney said...

Jeff, I baked it after doing all the sculpting--windows, etc. then I painted it and glued on the wings, which were already painted.

Glad you guys liked the movie. I was just goofing off with iMovie last night.

Steve, the whole maquette, start to finish, took a day and a half. It's really no beauty if you get close, but it suggests a lot of details.

Sean Craven said...

All right! I got credit!

I have to say that the approach of constructing models for the fantastic elements in a piece seems like something I should try -- but I'd have to beef up my observational drawing skills for it to be useful. Unfortunately, I've let them go for a while and they ain't currently up to snuff...

Daroo said...

Really great stuff.

What priorities do you have in mind when sculpting a maquette? By that I mean, how do you know when you've got something that will serve the needs of the finished painting without going overboard?

When I've done it -- I tend to get lost in the joy of sculpting and go for a finished sculpt (for which I don't have enough time and will probably abandon) instead of a good "rough" that will still give me enough solid visual info.

How do you know when to stop?

You will probably explain this in the future posts but what visual info are you hoping to get from the model as opposed to what you know you'll have to "make up"?

Drawing? (perspective)
Form?(planes of light and shadow)
Value-relationships? (lighting)
Edges? (somewhat tricky when photographing models)
Texture? (those wings seem to be semi transparent)

great post -- I can't wait for your book.

Anonymous said...

I would buy a toy like that! Nifty.

Erik Bongers said...

Angela Hewitt playing Bach?

Dan Gurney said...


For me, it is often difficult to disregard that "little voice" that is always on hand to suggest shortcuts.

You seem well-inoculated from the impulse take the easy way out. The Maquette is evidence of your willingness to do things as they ought to be done and the video (as little gem of it own) is further evidence.

All your life (and I can say this with some authority) you've consistently been willing—-no eager--to invest the attention, patience, and love that your artistry requires.

Inspiring. Thank you!

James Gurney said...

As you can see, I was lucky to have an older brother like Dan, who was always encouraging me to try harder.

Erik: Andras Schiff, Minuet from the French Suite #1

Daroo: Good questions. Mainly I'm looking for lighting. I never build the backside of a maquette any more than I have to. I often paint maquettes to see how the colors look in different illumination. I'm also looking for texture, especially what happens where the form turns from light to shade.

I'm wary of the risk that using Sculpey models for everything can make all your forms look like clay statues, so I try to place different materials into the lighting environment, even if their forms aren't right. I might include bits of cloth, moss, fur, tin foil, kitbashed plastic model parts, glass, mud, or even something from the butcher store.

When to stop? I very aware that these aren't display models, and they really fall far short of what a serious sculptor would do as a finished piece. A certain roughness is a benefit, like Rodin's sculpture.