Painting the Tortoise

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

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.

If you missed the first two videos about making the tortoise, you can find them here and here.

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.

Painting the Tortoise, Step 1
Painting the Tortoise, Step 1

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.

Painting the Tortoise, Step 2
Painting the Tortoise, Step 2

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.

Painting the Tortoise, Step 3
Painting the Tortoise, Step 3

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.

Ploughshare Tortoise Sculpture
Ploughshare Tortoise Sculpture

And one last thing – be sure to take a look at some of the recent photos that have been sent in by readers. If you click on the links below you’ll go to their comments and photos. Some of these folks have blogs, where they tell us much more about their projects.

I wish I could figure out a way to make it easier for people to find comments like these, because I want everyone to see these wonderful paper mache and paper mache clay sculptures – any WordPress experts out there with ideas?

9 thoughts on “Painting the Tortoise”

  1. I am confused by all the different glazing and gels that you use. I am using a Liquitex glazing medium but I do not care for the shiny appearance when it is dried. Plus it is hard to wipe off. What am I doing wrong?

    • Hi Donna. I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong. We’re just using different products. I checked online for your Liquitex glazing medium, and the product is described as “glossy,” with a fast drying time. The Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid that I use comes in both gloss and satin (I get the satin) and it extends the drying time considerably. I need it to slow down the drying time, because when the paint dries too quickly I can’t rub it off the way I like to do. If you like the effect I’m getting with the glaze, you might want to pick up a small bottle of the Golden product, and give it another try. 😉

  2. hi im reading your forum did it survive in the wilderness by using marine varnish?you mean survive like waterproff?sa some blog but i think waterprof paper mache recipe dont have in our place named Flow Coat..

  3. WOW, He is beautiful. If I can do it I will have one to sit by my small fish pond sitting area. Love him. Thinking of a name before I can even start.
    Opps, Looks like the kid is sneaking out of this nearing 80 year old Country Gal.

      • HUMmm That may take me a while to think off. I had all the nurses mad at me when I took the week I was in the hospital to name my last baby. Of course that wasn’t easy as he was the last of seven kids. LOL

  4. Hi!I hope hi can survive outside because That is a beautiful well done work!!!!!
    Thank you to share all your lovely animals with us!

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