The tortoise is finally done – almost. I’ll walk to the hardware store in a few minutes to buy the marine varnish I hope will protect him out in the wilderness near my pond. He’ll stay in the house until several coats of varnish are dry. Will he survive outside? I don’t know yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
Note – No, the tortoise did not survive outside. ( The rain didn’t damage him at all, but our near-desert sun did him in. The UV rays cracked the varnish, and it started to flake off. If I did this again, I’d buy a more expensive varnish with UV filters, and I’d still probably keep the sculpture in the shade. For a better way to build an outside sculpture, see the guest post by Julie, showing us how she built her thin-walled concrete mountain lion, here.
I painted the ploughshare tortoise in three steps. I guess you could call it four steps if you consider the time it took to find good reference photos. It was a bit confusing because I found photos of totoises with two strikingly different variations in the color patterns on their shells. I didn’t know why they were so different – do the patterns change as the tortoises grow older? Is it a sign of genetic diversity? (Seems hardly likely when there are so few left). Then I found this page, which may clear up the mystery. Some of the other websites I visited made no distinction between the Radiated Tortoise and the Ploughshare Tortoise. I hope I can trust this last page I found, because that’s the pattern I used for my tortoise. I guess it doesn’t matter all that much, but I did want it to be reasonably accurate.
I started by mixing up a very light yellow, using yellow ocher, raw sienna and burnt sienna. I thinned it with water and acrylic glazing liquid, so the white of the gesso underneath would show though. I painted this mixture onto the tortoise with a large soft brush, and then wiped off most of it with an old cloth. This stains the gesso with a natural-looking warm yellow.
After the yellow was completely dry I added just a touch of ultramarine blue and titanium white to my yellow to make it light gray. This was brushed over the exposed skin on the head, legs and tail, and wiped off. By now the bumps and ridges are already starting to stand out. I let this layer of paint dry overnight.
For the last layer of paint, I mixed up a burnt umber glaze and covered the entire tortoise. I wiped off most of it, leaving it in the dips and crevices. This made the ridges on the shell stand out nicely. I then added more burnt umber to the bit of glaze left in the container, and darkened it with ultramarine blue. I used this for the eyes and the dark stripes on the shell. I used the old rag to wipe off some of the dark color along the edges of the dark areas. It looks a bit messy, but I think it’s a fairly realistic rendition of a ploughshare tortoise’s shell.
This project took a lot longer than it should – partly because it’s been raining so much lately, (I tend to slow down when it rains), but mostly because I got so excited when it stopped raining. In the last few days I’ve been gardening, weeding, planting, and walking in the woods with the dog. Now I know why my blog gets fewer visitors during the summer!
However, I do have some more projects planned. The first project will be another experiment: I want to find out if I can use the paper mache clay in a rubber mold. This week I’ll sculpt a mask of a Caspian seal, another endangered critter. I’ll use potter’s clay for the model, and when it’s dry I’ll make the rubber mold. I don’t yet know if it will work, but I’ll be sure to let you know how it turns out.