Painting the Chimp

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Recently Carmen asked me why I like using Golden Acrylic Glazing Liquid for painting my sculptures, so I thought it would be fun to show you how I use it. I confess – I don’t feel very comfortable using a brush, so my painting technique feels more sculptural than painterly. I put on color, rub it off, and let the sculpture itself “paint” the details for me. It’s probably “cheating,” but I’m quite happy with the results. Chimp is a handsome fellow, don’t you think? (He needs a name – any suggestions?)

The bust itself was made with paper mache clay. Here’s how I added the color:

Painting the Chimp, Step 1
Painting the Chimp, Step 1

First I applied a layer of home-made gesso (1 Tablespoon joint compound, 1 teaspoon Elmer’s Glue All and a dab of Titanium White acrylic paint). When the gesso dried I mixed up some acrylic paint — Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna — thinned with Glazing Liquid. I painted this over the chimp bust and then removed most of it with a cloth. This stained the gesso a warm light yellow-brown.

Since the exposed skin of a young chimpanzee is the same color as the skin of a human of northern-European extraction, I had a handy model for the color – my arm. I needed more pink, so I made up another glaze using a higher proportion of Burnt Sienna, and applied this over the first layer of glaze after it dried. The first glaze still showed through.

Painting the Chimp, Step 2
Painting the Chimp, Step 2

You can already see the details beginning to stand out. The fur on the chimp’s sideburns and head, the deep recesses of his ears, and around his eyes retain more color, while most of the color is rubbed off everywhere else. The skin tones are also starting to get interesting on the ears and muzzle. The chimp is still too orange, though, so I added one more glaze for the skin. This time I used Cadmium Red Light, with a touch of Raw Sienna to warm it up. I added a lot of glazing liquid so the glaze was very transparent. I applied this color just to the face with a soft brush, and did not rub any of it off. You can still see the first two layers of glaze through this pink, just as you can on white people’s skin (chimp’s skin will darken to black as he gets older).

Painting the Chimp, Step 3
Painting the Chimp, Step 3

Now he needs some hair. I mixed up some black using Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. I used a dab of glazing liquid mixed with a little bit of my black for the skin on the upper portion of the chimp’s face that is beginning to darken, and then rubbed most of it off. I left the color dark around the eyes and the deep shadows beneath the overhanging brows, and inside the nostrils. I did not put any black on the muzzle, eyebrows or ears.

I painted the black without glazing liquid on the hairy areas, leaving just a bit of the underlying color showing through in a few spots.

Painting the Chimp, Step 4
Painting the Chimp, Step 4

The final step is to paint the eyes. I painted the pupils black and waited for the paint to dry. Then I mixed up a small amount of Burnt Sienna with a touch of Raw Sienna to warm it up. I added a drop of water to make it slightly transparent. I painted this reddish brown over the eyes, then removed it from over the pupils with a Q-tip, and also rubbed off a bit of the new color from the lower portion of the eyes below the pupil to make the eyes slightly lighter in this area. Then light-gray highlights were added to the pupils (Titanium White, Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna).

Painting the Chimp, Step 5
Painting the Chimp, Step 5

Now I just need to seal the sculpture with matte acrylic varnish, and sign it. I think he turned out quite nice – he’ll sit on my computer desk and keep me company. Because I used the glazing liquid to fill in the details and to add depth to the skin tones on the ears and muzzle, I can’t really say I worked very hard to make a fairly realistic portrait of a chimpanzee. I like the bust idea, too – it would be interesting to see if it would work with an animal that looks a bit less like Beethoven – someone like a golden retriever, for instance.  Have you tried it? How did it turn out?

49 thoughts on “Painting the Chimp”

  1. Hi Jonni.
    I came across your book while looking up “How to sculpt” offered on Amazon….Which led me to looking up your website…And, oh boy, what an inspiration you have become to me!!!!.
    I REALLY LOVE your work, and REALLY LOVE a “NEW” form of Paper Mache clay to be able to try…..You are such a talented lady, and I am also soooooo thankful that you are such a willing Artist, that shares not only their works of art with them, but your techniques and ideas behind each one too!!!….You are a rare find Jonni…=).

    17 years ago, I was sitting depressed in a Motel room, while we were in the process of moving house, because of my Husband’s work, and only had my one special Breyer model horse with me at the time!!…I was bored, so I began to study the measurements of my model, which led me to making a wire armature out of some beading wire, elmers glue and strips of paper from paper napkins at the time…and produced a standing Part Arabian Stallion model horse…(Breyer Model Traditional 12 inches in size!!.)
    I was thrilled to bits at how he turned out and called my wire/paper horse…”ALPHA”…meaning…”First”.
    He still needed some kind of paper Mache outer layer though to add the details etc onto him, and hold him together better.
    The sad thing about it all….is that I never got a chance to finish him!!!!.
    My life went into a whirlwind and he was put aside and eventually put away into storage, when my family went through yet another move of house….
    9 years had passed since I had made him to that point…..and a bad storage fire ended up sealing his fate and my lifetime collection of model horses, along with all the rest of mine and my families belongings to the famous Florida Hurricanes…..My family and I was REALLY devastated…but there was nothing we could do to bring it all back!!!!….Everything was gone!!!!.
    Over the years, after that,I have slowly been able to buy a model here and there to try and put back the model horses of what I lost…But NEVER tried again at sculpting……But something inside of me, my creative side, was nagging….wanting me to eventually try again at sculpting my very own.
    Especially when I went on the internet and saw soooooo many beautiful sculptures of sooooo many different horse models that I would absolutely LOVE to have….But they were like $200 up for each individual model horse!!
    So that’s what encouraged me that day to look up…”How to sculpt”….and what led me to your website Jonni…!!!.

    So….17 years ago……I made “ALPHA”…!!!!!!……..

    TODAY………Thanks to your website and encouragement to help build my confidence level back up in myself….I have started my cardboard armature of soon to be…”BETA” meaning “2nd”.
    She is going to become a standing, with neck arched and turned, pregnant Arabian Mare…..Hopefully when finished will stand about 12 inches so that she will fit in nicely with my Breyer Horses that I have in my small herd right now.
    I have just managed to get all of the ingredients to your paper Mache clay, so as soon as I finish bulking Beta out on her inner body work….then I will be ready to add the clay….=).
    I was looking for your Tutorial on the webpage of your horse that you have advertised in your book…not the large foal one that you did…But I haven’t been able to find it!!!!….Maybe I am looking in the wrong area or something!!!.
    But, Jonni if you still have the Tutorial on your website about your miniature horse could you please link me the page….As I really need the guidance to help follow…=).
    I have just done some of the armature different and added a toilet roll filled with scrunched up toilet paper for a little filler for to help separate, my cardboard pieces out for the structure….(As you will see in the pictures that I have included so far…).
    I have also done the legs and body as one whole piece, and will re-enforce the legs by adding wire to help make them more stronger.
    I have coated the cardboard pieces in clear contact paper instead of clear tape, to help make the cardboard more sturdier, before the wet, paper mache clay will be applied…=).
    So, that is as far as I have got so far, and will be taking my time with her especially when getting the feel for working with your clay, and applying it to her.
    I know I can’t expect her to be as perfect as I would like her to be on my FIRST try out once again at sculpting after all of these years…But, I just REALLY hope that I can get the detailing on her as possible, to look as close to an epoxy made sculpture…but yet in Paper Mache Clay!!!!….=).
    If all goes well with “Beta”….then I am going to make a nursing foal to go with her…..and then…finally……Re-Make……”ALPHA- PHOENIX”….=)

    Also, I was wondering…do you use anything to hold the sculpture still while applying the clay mixture, especially to your miniature sculptures???.
    Well Jonni….so sorry that this was a long winded conversation…But I just wanted to thank you soooooo much once again for “YOU”, your talents, teaching and sharing…and this website….And most of all, for giving me the confidence without you even realizing it…..back to me….to try sculpting again…=)
    Thank-you soooo much.

    Horse Armature

    • Hi Sharon – wow, what a story! I’m so glad you joined us, and your new horse is looking good.

      The video about the small horse that’s in the book is here. Since you’re also making a small horse, you’ll probably want to use aluminum foil to fill out the legs and head, like I did. It adds another bit of strength. Just be sure to completely cover it with masking tape after you have the muscles filled out.

      You can tape the hooves to a board while you add the clay if you need to, but I like to leave the sculpture free so I’ll know that I havet he balance right. Once you have the armature completely filled in and taped, it should stand up on it’s own. I don’t put the clay on the entire horse at one time, because you have to leave some parts dry so you have something to hold on to.

      Good luck with your project. Be sure to let us see how it turns out.

      • Hello Jonni…=)
        So sorry that it has taken me a long while in getting back with you on my equine horse projects.
        Sadly my update on “Beta Anniva” is that she is still waiting in armature form to be finished, as when I last got in touch with you, another move of house took place, and we moved in to a much smaller place, so most of my belongings have had to sty packed up, because of lack of space.
        Also the box that she is in, was pretty burred within the mountain of boxes too, so I haven’t sadly had the chance to get back to her to further her process.
        I did though manage to start work on my new “Alpha”, and even though he still needs A LOT of work, I have at least got his head neck and his body started.
        My other customs for my customers have had to come first priority over my time, so that is why I only have so much time to work on my Original sculptures.
        But so many new ideas are running through my head, and recently I have started yet a third Original equine sculpture, which I am working on with a friend, …”BAHIM”….Maybe this one will get a good chance of actually being finished one day, seen as though I am not having to work on my own with him.
        I will definitely keep you updated and posted on their progress.
        This time I promise that it won’t take me forever to reply back to you Jonni..=)
        I hope that you will forgive me…=)

        This picture is of my updated “ALPHA” for you to take a look at…=)
        Hope you like him so far..=)

        • Hi Sharon. Your new horse is coming along nicely. And I do understand how things get stuck under piles of boxes – I’m still sorting things out, and I’ve been in my new house for over a year now. 🙂

          I can’t wait to see how ALPHA turns out.

  2. I used ceramic clay … with paper pulp added.. it is supposed to be strong enough with the paper pulp added that you can use it without firing. As you can tell it is not quite finished yet. When it’s dry I plan to seal it.. match the finish of the horse and then might still mount onto a wooden base. Simply due to the size not sure I am comfortable with the stability of the paper clay product. If I had it to do over I may have used your paper mache clay and covered the foam core base he started out on? Guess I got a little over ambitious for a first time learning project with your recipe!!!!!

  3. Just wanted to thank you for such wonderful tutorials and the paper mache clay recipe. Am sending a picture of a horse sculpture I am in the process of with your “clay” recipe. The close up of the mane shows how I defined the hair on the mane.. I used a wooden skewer and drew in the “hair”. Not happy with the horses head and may add some more clay definitions… have you ever added more after painting? Am hoping I can work on his eye sockets some more even though I have painted already.

    Paper Mache Horse

    • Hi Pat. You’ve done a wonderful job with your horse. He looks great.

      I would be a bit nervous about adding more clay over the paint, since it may not stick. Is there any way you can experiment on a hidden part, so you can see how it works before working on the face?

      I’m curious – what did you use for your base?

  4. Also I was wondering if you had ever considered using paper tape, like they use in hospitals, to connect your pieces? I would think that clay would stick very well to it. Don’t know how strong it would be, though. Just an idea!

    • Yes, that would probably work, as long as the new cay extends outward over the previous clay level. Once it dries the two combined layers should create a solid shell.

  5. Jonni,
    This sculpture is so beautiful! You gave the chimp the most serene smile. And I love the antiquing effects you do! I was reading your tortoise blog about making sculptures of endangered species being a good job for an aspiring artist~~~ why not you? You certainly have the talent for it!
    Your devoted fan

  6. Thank you. I hope the weather gets better for that type of stuff.Good luck!I will try to start on the marionete and post pictures of the process.It’s the last two days of school for me and I still am geting homework to do,but I gues they need to get as much grades as posible. I’m ok with that I just can’t wait to start a new prodject .
    Thank you

    • Hi Ben. The weather has not cooperated – it started raining the day after I made the dryer, and hasn’t stopped yet. When the sun comes back I’ll do that experiment, and let you know.

  7. Most of what I’m making lately needs to be hollow, so I have experience with cutting the hardened clay off the armature. I’ve found using a small pull saw is the easiest way for me. I think my saw is a Shark Fine Cut.

    I cut it off the armature after the first ‘rough’ layer of clay has hardened, and it’s hard enough to hold it’s shape. I then glue the cut sections back together with hot glue, and then add a couple layers of paper strips over the cut just to reinforce it. Once that’s dry, I can add the detail clay layer and smooth out the joined place so it doesn’t look any different than the rest of the piece.

    I do try to cut on an angle, so the piece will be easy to put back together, and if I’m making multiple cuts I’ll mark the sections (A, B, etc.) so I’ll know what goes with what.

    It’s pretty quick and easy and since what I’m working on these days needs to be hollow, it allows me to do more complicated shapes than I would be able to otherwise. And if you didn’t need the paper strips to reinforce, you could start on the detail layer as soon as the hot glue was dry – so you wouldn’t be adding much time at all.

    • Thanks Beth – this info is very helpful and detailed – exactly what we needed. I wonder if you could use a narrow strip of 1/4 inch hardware cloth embedded in your final detail layer over the cut, to eliminate the need for the paper strips? If the wire covered an inch or so on each side of the cut, it should reinforce the piece enough – but bending it into the proper shape might make the process more trouble than it’s worth. Hmm… so many great ideas to try.

  8. great…i love the life in his eyes. i quickly skimmed through the comments to see what glazing liquid was…its this what you use in ceramics? i would like to give it a shot.
    have a great day!

    • Hi Addie. The glazing liquid I use is a product I use that’s made by Golden, the folks who make acrylic paint. You wouldn’t use it on ceramics. If you use it in place of water to thin acrylic paint the glazing liquid slows down the drying time. I’ve tried other products, but the Golden glazing liquid is the best I’ve found for what I’m using it for. I like to put color on the sculpture and then rub almost all of it off, leaving just a bit of color in the cracks and crevices. Without the glazing liquid the paint dries too fast, and you end up with blotchy parts where sections overlap. I buy mine from Blick because we don’t have an art store here in town, but I’m sure your local store will order it for you if they don’t have any on hand.

  9. as usually a great job and the wonderful gift of your knowledge, thanks Jonni. I love the little chimp, but to me he has a frightened, searching look on his face, something like ” how do I get out of here, back to the jungle”. Maybe just my mood, he’s fantastic and so realistic that I can see a feeling in him. Thanks again Jonny.

    • Hi Lesley. It’s possible that I unconsciously gave the chimp his worried look, even though I intended for him to be happy. I’m giving him the job of mascot for a new website I’m building about endangered animals. Since our cousin the chimp may soon go the way of the Neanderthal, he has reason to be worried.

  10. Nice step-by-step on the painting, Jonni. I’ve fallen behind! Clay armatures? Hm! Have to read back and see what that’s about. Doesn’t it keep the paper clay damp, absorbing the water from the clay?

    • You made it back, volcano and all? Yes, this is a new idea that started with the experimental chimp post, here (different chimp, same idea). As I mentioned to Donna, this idea has limited possibilities (the crumpled paper and masking tape armatures are better for complicated forms) but it was fun using the paper mache clay so loosely over the pottery clay skull. I am going to see if I can use the pottery clay as a temporary armature for a sculpture of a greyhound lying down, which might work because the bottom can be left open to remove the water-based clay after the paper mache clay is dry. (Plastic was used for the absorption issue…)

    • I’ve taken ceramics courses: If paper mache can be baked in a oven, that water based clay can quickly stiffen up in a really hot dry day, and that water based clay is cooked in really hot kilns:
      I’m sure you can bake the paper mache covered clay in the oven. Or you can dry out the clay so much before doing paper mache on it. True, the clay will get slight cracks in it from drying outside, but you can still use paper mache on it afterwards.

      I used it making masks without a plastic cover (This was way before Chimp example by Jonni) and let them air dry in the hot California weather: No problems with it. Just make sure to use more than three layers of paper strips on it and it’s fine.

      Also you could look into/for drying cabinets. The ceramics classes over at the local college use them to completely dry out the clay before even putting them in the kilns.
      Please note, they are costly.

  11. Thank ypu so much for the tutorial.It realy helped beacause I was having trouble figuring how to make the sculptures look life like.I love it!GREAT WORK!
    Thank you so much

  12. I really like your chimp! Maybe you could name it something like Booker, since this was the project you were working on when your book came out. 🙂
    Good luck on your book sales. I hope you make lots of money!

  13. Absolutely wonderful. You’re so inspirational. I can’t wait to get your book and start sculpting. Just curious, I know that you just started experimenting with paper clay over pottery clay so I’m guessing this method isn’t in this book? Maybe the next one?? 🙂 Also, am wondering about a comment on a prior post about cutting the paper clay off the armature after it dries. Is it fairly easy to cut once it’s dry? If so, what would you cut it with? Thanks.

    • Hi Donna. You’re right – the book shows how to use an armature made from crumpled paper and masking tape, which is made over a cardboard pattern. I think that’s a much better way to create a four-legged sculpture, because the armature supports the legs and gives you a way to reinforce the sculpture with wire if you need to. The pottery clay worked as a temporary armature inside the chimp bust because it was easy to remove the water-based clay after the paper mache clay dried, and because there are no legs involved. There might be a way to use the pottery clay inside a more complicated form, but I haven’t figured it out yet. If you can think of a way to do it, please let us know!

      Cutting the paper mache clay open to remove the pottery clay was suggested by another reader, but that is also something that is still unproven. The paper mache clay is quite hard when it’s dry, but if you use a fairly thin layer you should be able to cut it with a craft knife. Thicker layers would need a saw. And the “wound” would need to be repaired, perhaps using the expanded aluminum or a plastic mesh to reinforce the new layer of clay. Again, if anyone tries this, please let us know how it turns out. I’m going to stick with a permanent armature made with crumpled paper and tape for all my four-legged critters. (Which reminds me – check out the chicken-wire and foil armature for a giraffe that Judy shared with us on another page. That’s a great way to make a hollow sculpture – no need to cut it open and remove anything, because it starts out hollow. I just wish chicken wire was easier to work with.)

      • It probably would be easier to cover the entire water clay shape with the paper strip method first, let that dry thoroughly (The clay inside too), cut it open, and putting the two parts together again with more paper strips/glue (The same way Dan “Monster Man” does with Cloth mache).

        The paper strip method gives you a basic shell shape of whatever you are making. You can use the paper clay to build up details like eyes, noses, etc. However, I like using baked sculpey for teeth so I can push it into paper clay to make the clay look like gums.

        I have a way of doing animal ears, though. I love computer paper for ears since paper is far stronger than just using cardboard pieces in the process. The only problem being that the paper sags once soaked. So I reinforce it for the paper mache process. First I cut out two ear shapes from two pieces of paper. I use tape to figure out the position for masks that cover the head or taxidermy trophy heads . Once they are in a position I like, I tape down the edges to the object. After that, I use tape to cover one side or both. Then use Elmer’s glue to coat one side or both. Once dry, I can then use paper mache strips on it without worrying about the paper warping. I also don’t do all paper layers at once with it. So one day, the first layer: And so and so on until it is hard enough.

        Speaking of which, I should probably send a picture of my faux leopard taxidermy trophy head.

        • Ooh – your method sounds way too complicated for me. I’m a lazy person. I’ll stick with the permanent armatures, except in rare cases like the one above.

          I agree with you about the ear issue. That’s why I like the expanded aluminum so much. It doesn’t sag when it gets wet. However, you do need to make sure the tabs that connect it to the head are completely covered with totally dried paper mache clay or paper mache strips. Then the weight of the paper mache over the ears won’t pull the ears off the head. Your idea of reinforcing the paper first, before covering them with paper mache sounds like a great alternative for smaller ears where the aluminum would be too heavy.

          Yes – we definitely want to see that leopard!

  14. You did a fabulous job! The chimp is beautiful–soulful eyes, wonderful expression and excellent painting. Thanks for showing your process and congratulations for completing such an excellent sculpt!


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