We have another great guest post from Julie Ellis today, showing us how she made her wonder Fancy Dancer sculpture! We get to see how she built the armature for a figure sculpture, how she made all those feathers and ribbons, and how she put it all together. What a challenging project! Be sure to click on the images below to see them in a larger size.
How the Sculpture Was Made
©2014 Julie Ellis
I’ve been thinking about creating a fancy dancer for a long time. Originally I wanted to do something for the yard as that’s been my focus for the last 3-4 years. As a yard ornament I was thinking to make it 9’ tall. What held me back was the armature. How would I attach all of the pieces with wire, metal and cement? My sister wisely advised me to consider doing a smaller version to see what would be involved in creating the piece. I’m more thankful than I can say that I followed her advice and created a smaller version 44” tall. Think I would have met my Waterloo if I had attempted my fancy dancer as a larger than life size monument.
I used 5” as my head size for proportions. I started with ¾” pipe and flange screwed to piece of wood along with clothes line wire which ended up not being strong enough so I wrapped wire mesh around the wire to strengthen it. At this stage I can’t stress enough. Measure, measure, MEASURE your armature to start off with the right height and I also measured constantly as I went along. I used Figure Drawing by Andrew Loomis as my main informational source for the figure and anatomy. It’s excellent, but was published in 1943 and I don’t know where you can access that information now. Then I started the paper mache process. [Note from Jonni – I just found a similar title by the same author on amazon.com. It looks great!]
I’ve fallen in love with tinfoil which helps create texture. I used Kim Barton’s method of crumpling the tinfoil and hot waxing it in place for the goat skin leggings. Then I applied a layer of Jonni’s Paper Mache Clay. A word of caution here, it’s difficult to fill all of the little crevices in the tinfoil. Check your art several times to make sure it’s covered. I used the same technique for the feathers on the bustles and arm bands.
I decided I’d better do his face as without it all this work is for nothing! I used Jonni’s air dry clay recipe for the face. Also went over the face several times with paste to smooth it out. (I hate to sand!)
I used Scott Stoll’s paper mache paste and added Clorox to his recipe then paper mached the body with blue shop towels to help smooth out the body surface. I went over the body several times with the paste. Making sure it dried between applications. (Did I say I hate sanding?)
Amaco WireForm mesh for the roach armature then paper mache clay (pmc) over the wire mesh with lots of hair like texture and shop towels and pmc for the roach (head dress) base. Sorry no picture to show you this process.
I cut a circle of card board (pizza box) covered it with masking tape then applied a layer of pmc for the rosette (head band disk) and epaulette (arm band disk).
I used the Wireform mesh for the breach cloth and covered it with blue mechanics towels and Scott’s paste top and bottom. I used Liquid Nails or pmc for my glue to attach pieces. I always primed before I painted anything on the piece.
I have to tell you the ribbons were hell! I used wire mesh and tried to make them ridged with pmc and they cracked. (Not enough re-enforcement.) I even added a layer of Liquid Nails to the pmc and it just looked horrible and continued to crack. Finally took it all off and cut wire mesh strips and wrapped them with masking tape used hot wax to glue the tape down, then primed and painted them and attached them with Liquid Nails. I spent many hours working on those darn ribbons!
The bustles are made with 1/8” wooden dowels. I used screening for the bustle feathers with blue mechanics towels and paste. I was concerned that the dowels wouldn’t be strong enough so I wrapped each lower feather with heavy string and then put a layer of paste to glue the string on. I glued the feathers to a tinfoil ring on a card board base. Then I tied all the feathers together with wire and used tinfoil to create the small feather clusters. Whew! Am I the only one starting thinking that I’m a bit crazy?! Ok don’t go there! Ha! Thank God he’s not 9’ tall! I was already losing sleep!
He has feathers and dangles for decorations. The bustles were screwed, glued and tied on.
He was anchored to the top of a pedestal base permanently because he got so top heavy. I thought I should make the base part of the sculpture.
17 thoughts on “How Julie Made Her Fancy Dancer”
John, I have crafted and painting all my 71 year of life that I can remember. Our mother taught my sister and me to sow and do different kinds of crafts. I can remember making figures and vases from woded up paper but we never had it as good as we have after watching you on YouTube. I’m making an elephant 5″ tall and 6″ long. I’m also doing some hummingbirds. Love, love ,love your sculptures. I have a Facebook page”Napper’s Art and Crafts” but as of right now I haven’t set up a website. Thank you for time you spend for others.
Julie, that is one hell of a good post. That sculpture is absolutely breathtaking and the detail is exquisite. I am sure you did lose some sleep but what came out is outstanding. I am glad you showed the process. It is so helpful.
Julie, what a success! All your planning, measuring, painting, not sanding, all worked out to be a beautifully executed sculpture. Well done.
A great site for all of Loomis’s books is
and its free, there are several other sites also if that one is a problem.
Thanks, Lew. But the site makes me nervous – how do we know it’s safe to download the pdf’s? Is there a way to check them for viruses or other bad stuff? Have you used the site yourself?
Downloaded several books for the art group at our local VA. My Norton “box” tell me “site is safe”. Also, have great luck with the Guttenburg Project, digitizing old books and making them available. That is a multi-country effort of universites and others to keep old knowledge available, have downloaded about 20 books from it
That’s good news, Lew. Thanks!
I think the details in this piece are amazing and I can imagine the whole lit of eork that went into it . Very, very well done!
Absolutely! I want to say thank you Jonni, I have learned so much from you and continue to learn. I used your mask technique to make my little people sculptures. My Little Person is derived from an Amercian Indian Fairy Tale book, as I have written and illustrated two of my own Little People books (which I have been meaning to ask you about your experience in publishing BTW), I wanted to create something that came from authenticated Native American legends. Native’s call fairies the little people and my husbands culture is a big influence in my creativity. This is the Storyteller, he has big eyes that sees more than the average and big ears that hears more than the average and has lived longer than when the oldest oak was an acorn. He leaves for many moons and comes back with stories that no one else has has ever heard of that are positive and have lessons about life. I have made several others and attach their stories with the mask. I want to show them in a gallery and or make an art book. My husband also thinks Julies sculpture is amazing. Thank you both for all the inspiration! All of your pieces are remarkable and Julie, this is no exception!
Thanks, Christine. You could do both the gallery and the book, you know – the two go very well together. I self-publish through CreateSpace. The setup is free, you don’t have to pay for any of the printing (except for the books you want to order for yourself) and the books are made available automatically on amazon.com. Of course, the hard part is letting people know the books are there. If you have any questions at all, feel free to ask.
ok thank you I will..
Absolutely stunning. I love the leggings! (Like Jonni, I found Andrew Loomis’s book on Amazon.)
this is an outstanding piece! the movement in the dancers clothing make it look photogenic. didn’t read all the info. how tall is it?
Awesome Job Julie, Wow what more can I say. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
This is beautiful! My husband is Meskwaki, I would love to learn to make a traditional dancer for his tribes settlement or for our Pow Wow booth. I myself have made masks of the Little People.
That’s a beautiful sculpture, Christine. There’s a lot of deep character showing in that face – and there must be a story behind the images. Can you share?
Christine, that mask sculpture is gorgeous, I agree with Jonni it shows a lot of character. It really looks like it belongs on a wall to be admired.