The ploughshare tortoise that I started a week ago has been progressing slowly. I blame the rain. Everything seems to slow down at my house when we have unending clouds and rain – it just seems like the best time to curl up with a mystery novel and hibernate for a while.
However, I have now started on the fun part of the tortoise project – the textures. That’s really why I wanted to do this sculpture in the first place. Before adding any paper mache clay I did some more pushing and squishing on the crumpled paper armature, because I found out that the top and bottom shells are attached differently than I thought they were. Then I added a thin layer of paper mache clay and let it dry.
Once I had a nice solid layer to work on, I started in on the bottom shell. Last week Xan found us a photo of a baby tortoise upside down. I intended to use that photo for a model, but I read a bit further in my book by Jane Goodall and found a color photo in the center showing an adult male ploughshare tortoise upside down. It looked very different from the lower shell of a baby tortoise. (One thing I’m learning is how much I don’t know about tortoises). I used the photo in Jane’s book as a model and added clay to the bottom shell of my sculpture:
I added some clay to form the head details, and then started working on the bumpy leg textures. I used plastic film over a thin layer of clay, rubbing the clay smooth through the plastic. Then I used a tube from a ball-point pen, which I took apart, and used the ends to make circles in the clay. I used the plastic again, just to smooth out the texture a bit, although this probably wasn’t necessary.
Then I drew the geometric pattern on the top shell, and added clay to each raised area, one at a time. I used the edge of a knife to press the lines into the clay. In the photo below I have just a few of the raised areas finished. You can see in the photo at the top of the post how the shell will look when it’s all finished. I should have all the shell’s texture finished today.
I may spend a bit more time on the face, to make it a little more realistic. I know it isn’t quite right the way it is now. Then I’ll let the entire sculpture dry for at least a week to make absolutely sure it’s dry before I add the color. I intend to finish it with marine varnish and let him sit in my flower bed near the pond during the summer – this is an experiment to find out if the varnish will protect the sculpture. We should know by the end of summer if it’s a reasonable thing to do or not.
Next week I’ll show you how he looks when he’s all done. I know my tortoise wouldn’t win any prizes at a science fair, but I can see that creating accurate sculptures of rare species would be an exciting career choice for an artist just starting out. There must be people working in museums who do that sort of thing – what would a job like that be called?