Today we have a guest post from Kelly Richard, who shows us how she made this Great Blue Heron.
You can see from the progress photo on the right that Kelly managed to get some great feather detailing, using a unique method she invented.
The heron is made with the air dry clay recipe on this site, and Apoxie sculpt. Now, I’ll let Kelly take it from here. Thanks, Kelly!
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
© 2016 Kelly Richard
I am Kelly Richard, a sculptor, who primarily works in paper mache. Living on the East coast in the low country of South Carolina, I am surrounded with a myriad of birds and creatures. My fascination with local wildlife has led me to create several varieties of birds in paper mache.
My challenge has been how to create the feathers with paper mache. They need to be thin and delicate yet strong enough not to break easily. Equally challenging is how to support a figure like a heron with a heavy body and long, thin legs.
After trying many approaches, I have found techniques that solve these challenges. In this guest blog, I will share the technique that I have developed to create thin feathers in paper mache and a few tips to ensure your top heavy figure has the strength to stand vertically.
I am creating a Great Blue Heron. After researching the bird’s structure, I draw sketches of how I would like the final piece to look. I begin my armature by cutting out the outline of the body in foam core. The foam core template needs to be proportionally exact, so the finished piece is proportional and produces a convincing interpretation of a heron.
Since the heron has long legs which must support the top heavy body, I use thin steel rods to form legs. I bend the rods using a vise and rubber mallet to make the legs look realistic. The rods are then wrapped in copper wire and sealed in shellac to minimize any rust that occurs from seeping through the paper mache. Once these are dry, I wrap them in masking tape to further avoid rust. The rods need to extend an inch or two into the body and into the base to keep the bird vertical and anchor it. This is not the time to be skimpy with the length of the steel rods.
Looking at photos, my drawings and a simple grid which I established when I started my Heron design, I determine how far apart to place the legs. I cut the Styrofoam blocks wide enough so they fit between the top of the legs and the pattern. I attach each block with a hot glue gun to the inside of my Styrofoam Heron pattern. I wrap the top of each rod first with aluminum foil and then with masking tape making it easier to attach the rods to the Styrofoam blocks. Then I attach the steel rods with a hot glue gun making sure the bird stands up straight.
Figure 2. Styrofoam blocks are attached by hot glue gun to the heron pattern. The steel rods are also attached to Styrofoam blocks with a glue gun. This is a photo of a pattern for a bird I finished some time ago using driftwood as a base.
Once I determined how far apart the legs and feet would be I drilled holes in the driftwood to place the feet firmly on the base and secured the rods in the driftwood with epoxy.
When I have completed building the armature, I pack it with aluminum foil and cover it with masking tape to create the desired body mass. I find aluminum foil to be the most flexible and sturdy for this part of the process.
Figure 3. Pictured is the armature covered in masking tape. The legs are bent slightly to make the heron look realistic.
Once the armature is complete I begin applying my paper mache clay. I use Jonni’s Air Dry Clay and Apoxie Sculpt because they lend themselves to detailed work. Apoxie Sculpt is a modeling compound which cures in 24 hours.
Figure 4. Here is the heron covered with air dry clay. The heron’s head is covered with Apoxie Sculpt.
As you can see on the figure above, I suggest some preliminary feathering on the body. One of my favorite tools is a butter knife. Note that I positioned the legs so one foot is in front of the other. This gives the figure a sense of motion. Now I am ready to begin actual feathering of my heron.
For the feathers, I begin with a sheet of card stock large enough to create the feathers plus ½” to 1” allowance for attaching the feathers to the figure. I draw several lengths of feathers on the card stock. I apply strips of overlapping masking tape to cover the front and back of the card stock. The masking tape seals the stock. I apply glue (a mixture of half Elmer’s Glue-All and half water) to the masking tape to ensure the clay sticks to the card stock.
Figure 54. The card stock is marked for the approximate length of the feathers. A thin layer of air dry clay is placed on the masking tape, covered stock.
Figure 6. The clay is thinly rolled on the front and back of the card stock. I call this “clayed” stock.
Using a small roller or a rolling pin, I roll the clay as thin as possible on each side of the card stock. Be sure to liberally apply corn starch to the roller and your work surface before rolling. Once completed, store the “clayed” stock in a sealed plastic bag overnight. The next day the clay will have set slightly but can still be manipulated easily. As long as the clay covered stock is sealed in a bag it will last a few days. Using scissors or a utility knife, I cut the “clayed” stock the desired length and width of the feathers. Make sure the clay remains attached to both sides of feather strips. It is easy to press the clay back into position on the strips with your fingers.
Figure 7. Thin strips of “clayed” stock are cut and ready to be applied to the figure.
I apply glue to the sculpture to attach the strips of “clayed” stock to the desired areas on my heron. Once the strips are attached, I add additional clay and blend the feathers into the coat of the heron. It is very important to make the feathers look like they are attached to the heron not merely sitting on the surface of the sculpture.
Figures 8 and 9. Feathers have been applied to the figure. The feathers are applied on the front, the head and the back of the heron.
While the feathers are drying, I lightly wrap my sculpture with paper towels or bubble wrap to make sure the feathers stay in position. The “clayed” covered strips of paper are unstable until dry.
Here is a picture of my finished heron. By experimenting, I was able to create thin feathering made of thin strips of “clayed” card stock. The feathers are thin and delicate but will not break easily. The steel rods supporting the legs ensure the bird remains upright and doesn’t fall over. Truly necessity is the mother of invention.