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. Thank you so much for showing all how you do these sculptures. I am just starting to play with clay, but hey, I’m retired now and have time on my hands… The elephant was awesome but the chimp….OMG I was raised with chimps and you have it exactly, esp. the eyes……made me want to use sign language to talk to him/her. LOVED IT!

      • My mom was just a housewife who had 7 kids and a horrible case of “empty nest syndrome” and was told 40 was too old to adopt. It ended up she knew someone who knew a researcher who was doing project to raise an orphan chimp as a human. Mom did exactly that! We loved her and she loved us and we lost her to total kidney failure when she was 20. FYI, never lived in a cage either…. MOM was to be obeyed!! ha ha (and dare I admit “Aunt Tonya” who was same age as my kids, behaved better than her nieces and nephews!) OH LOL the stories I could tell! And THANK YOU again for “those eyes”…

        • Oh my – I don’t suppose you’ve ever considered writing a book, have you? I’ve read about a lot of those experiments, but all of the chimps I read about had to leave the family when they got big enough to hurt someone. Several of the experiments were described in Roger Fouts’ book Next of Kin. I’m sure you’ve read it. But I’ve never read anything about a chimp that actually got to stay with her human family. If you ever do write a book about it, please let me know because I’d love to read it!

          • I did read his book, and knew him too, but so many yrs I’ve forgotten details. Like a long lost tribe of people in my mom’s life and therefore mine. There used to be a lot abt Tonya on the internet, but noticed not so anymore. I have tons of newspaper articles though. I will definitely give a shout out if I write something. WANT TO, and CAN write pretty fair, but right now……….I’m playing with clay. HA HA

  2. Here is the model now standing with the 2 body pices taped together…=)
    She is now waiting for the tinfoil added to give her the bulk she needs for the clay to adhere to…=)
    Then “BETA” will be ready for the paper Mache Clay to be applied…=)

    Horse Armature for Paper Mache

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