Friday, 1 May 2009

Spanking children? That is illogical...

Dr Spock - Benjamin Spock, not Star Trek's Mr Spock - was the revolutionary childcare expert who transformed American parents' attitudes to children in the 1960s. Less of the Eisenhower-era, almost Victorian, stern, remote parenting, and more cuddles, affection and general fluffiness. Over on the ISCA forum, I contributed two drawings of him for their Birthday Caricatures section. The first was bloody awful, so I won't bother reproducing it here.

But I'm rather pleased with the second, which you can see below, together with an inset photo of the good doc, seeing as probably nobody reading this blog has the faintest idea what he looked like...

The style harks back to my old style fifteen years ago, and now I'm getting back more into drawing, it's a style I'm the most comfortable with. It's not a million miles away from Bill Plympton's early caricatures, before he became an ace indie animator (Your Face etc.).

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


As I mentioned way back in my first post on this blog, I'm not much cop at drawing. This, of course, is a huge drawback for someone wanting to explore the art of caricature. Thus, I'm starting to draw more, fully aware that I need to do some serious learning as well as practising if I'm to get anywhere.

So, here is my version of everyone's favourite bogeyman, Adolf Hitler (done for the International Society of Caricature Artists' birthday forum thread)...

...which I then incorporated into a mini-comic strip for b3ta (click on it for biggitude):

Hitler is actually surprisingly difficult to draw, in that apart from the iconic graphic signifiers of the slicked-over parting and toothbrush moustache, there isn't actually an awful lot going on with his face. The eyes are quite piercing, and the subject's right eye tends to look slightly sleepy in contrast to the piercing left eye, and there's the surprisingly broad nose, but apart from that, not a lot, as one of the foremost magicians of our age would say...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sculpey Tips

Recently, I joined the International Society of Caricature Artists, a US-based organisation. Quite apart from the friendly reception when I first posted on their forum, it has proven to be excellent inspiration! I have already garnered various tips on using Super Sculpey, my modelling clay of choice - as well as that of most small-scale sculptors, it transpires.

So here are my Top Sculpey Tips:

First, you can use balled-up tinfoil as a core for sculptures, especially heads. Doing that would have cut down hugely on the amount of Sculpey used in, for example, the Stephen Fry piece, which is solid and weighs in at 600-plus grams (that's a lot of Sculpey for a relatively small item). Tinfoil can also be used to bulk out wire armatures, and can be shaped to a considerable degree before a 'skin' of Sculpey is overlaid and more detail is added.

Second, I can use my plastic eyes now! In an old post on my companion blog, McTodd Animates!, I described how to make fairly realistic eyes very cheaply, and with little specialist equipment. Stick such an eye in a soft Sculpey piece and bake it and, sadly, it melts...

However, the great David O'Keefe, in an interview in the ISCA magazine Exaggerated Features (no link possible, I'm afraid), gave a great tip: sculpt the eyes in place, and when baking your sculpture, place a small wad of wet cotton wool onto the eyes before placing it in the oven.

I tried it at the weekend and it works! The clay covered by the cotton wool stays soft, and can be hardened with a hairdrier (it takes a while, mind).

Finally, don't follow the baking instructions on the pack (135 celsius, IIRC, for 15 minutes per quarter-inch thickness of clay). Reduce the teperature to 80 celsius and almost double the time. Also, if you can, leave the clay in the oven when you switch it off - let it cool slowly to room temperature along with the oven, you'll pretty well completely avoid cracking that way.

Further experiments will take place...

Friday, 27 March 2009

Mr Fry is beside himself...

Last night I did some dry-sponging of his hair and eyebrow, to add light-grey highlights and generally tidy it up a bit, as well as sticking a pair of irises onto the eyes. Hair colouring may have been too subtle as it doesn't show up so well, except from the side. Hmmm - still more work to be done...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Paint Job

As alluded to in the previous post, I did actually slap a load of flesh-coloured paint onto the sculpture but it just didn't look right. So I tried mixing my own, using artists' acrylics - big mistake, it ended up looking lobster pink and shiny, as if poor old Stephen Fry had been baking in the sun too long!

So I ended up re-priming it and having another go, by lightening Revell's modelmakers' flesh-tone acrylic paint with their matt white, and adding just a tiny tincture of yellow. Simply painting a uniform colour onto something gives a dull and lifeless look, even on a three-dimensional object like a sculpture, as can be seen below left.

Consequently, it is necessary to add other tones and highlights, somewhat as an artist would do with a two-dimensional painting. Most modelmakers, and the puppetmakers on Spitting Image, use fancy (read expensive) airbrushes, something I don't possess and, being a completely tight bastard, have no intention of possessing any time soon. Thus, to achieve the skin tones you can see below right, I had to experiment, eventually using a form of dry-brushing using sponge. One thing you have to remember is that modelmakers' acrylics dry damn fast, which is great for painting multiple coats in an evening but a bugger to dry-brush using brushes, hence the use of sponge.

The sponge I use is in the form of little blocks, around the size of a school pencil eraser, cut from sheets of furniture foam (of which I have a stock for making stop-motion animation puppets). Dip a corner of the sponge into the pot of acrylic paint so you have just a tiny little blob on the sponge. Smear this around and around onto a surface (I use disposable paper plates) until it appears that it won't make any more marks. You then rub this fairly firmly onto the surface of the model. The almost-dry traces of paint still in the sponge transfer quite nicely. You can also lightly dab the sponge to get even more subtle effects.

Stephen Fry's nose and cheeks were done using this method, with red paint. His lips were brush-painted with a darker shade of the skin-tone paint, but were too shiny and even in tone, so I dulled them by lightly dry-sponging with another shade of skin-tone and a little dry-sponged red on top to break the colour up even more. Dry-brush grey was sponged onto the chin and jowls, for that not-quite-five-o'clock-shadow look, and then some red was dry-sponged lightly onto that.

The 'hair' is simply the primer coat, touched up with some more grey. I'll likely re-paint it in better colours, but it'll do for now. The irises are the paper irises described in my companion blog, cut out and carefully placed - they aren't glued in and are only temporary to avoid the dead zombie-eyes look seen below left.

This is my first ever piece of figure painting (apart from the occasional tiny 1/35 scale model soldier decades ago), and I'm rather pleased with the results...

Monday, 23 March 2009

What a grey day

Painting is a pain in the arse. Why? Because whenever you slap a coat of paint on a model/sculpture, nine million cracks you'd never previously noticed suddenly gape out at you. Cue much arsing about with putty...

Finally, however, I managed to cover most of the worst cracks, and am finding that a thick splodge of paint fills in hairline jobs. Below is the sculpture with a couple of layers of primer:

Last night I slapped a load of flesh-coloured paint on, but couldn't be bothered to take any photos. I hope to update tomorrow...

By the way, I probably shan't bother going into this kind of step-by-step detail in future, as most of my techniques will probably remain much the same. Only when I do something radically different will I post about the process. Otherwise, I shall try to restrict posts to showing finished projects.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Master baker? Bollocks...

Baked the bust of Fry.

Lots of cracks. Well, a few.

Not happy, I think I baked it for too long at too high a temperature (i.e. according to the instructions).

Conclusion: ignore the instructions in a pack of Sculpey. Bake for longer, at a lower temperature, and then leave it in the oven when it's switched off, thus cooling more slowly.

Still, at least I was able to fill the cracks, which I sanded under a tap with fine wet-n-dry, and buffed with a rotary buffing thing. This weekend, I'll spray on a coat of primer.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Re-fried Fry...

Lawks a mercy, but I've been a-faffing and a-farting around with this Stephen Fry sculpture more than anything else for ages... Patrick Moore was a doddle by comparison.

Two aspects of it grated:

First, I simply wasn't happy with the shape. The mouth was wrong, the lower jaw line was off (too narrow), all in all it was bobbins.

Second, I want more subtle colouring, of skin and hair, which means painting, and that can't be done with soft clay (well, it can, Luck & Flaw painted their plasticine sculptures, I understand, but at such a small scale as I operate, I don't think it's practicable). However, the stuff I use (Super Sculpey) can be baked (in a domestic oven) to a hard, pottery-like consistency, ideal for painting.

And so I have radically re-worked the sculpture, replacing the eyes with baked-hard Sculpey hemispheres (because those lovely plastic ones, sadly, melt in the oven) and the plasticine hair with Sculpey hair, as well as making the jawline heavier, though not, I feel, offensively so (I would hope that were Sir Stephen of Fry to see this blog, he would not be too hacked off with the way I've distorted his features).

This is the result, before baking (which I plan to do tonight):

Incidentally, apropos of bugger-all, did you know that Stephen Fry was named Pipe-Smoker of the Year in 2003 by The Chap magazine? Is there no end to the avuncular bastard's talents?!?!?!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Eyes right...

On my other blog, McTodd Animates!, I went into considerable detail about how I make the eyes for these sculptures. Frankly, I can't be arsed to repeat it here, but you can follow this link to the original article if you're interested...

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry - wit, raconteur, writer (films, novels, newspaper columns, short stories), actor, comedian, film director, panel-show host par excellence, blogmeister, tech-head, jailbird, posh tea merchant, mentalist, big old gayer - is there anything he can't do?

In fact, if he wasn't such an all-round Good Egg, I'd bloody hate him. But how could you? The man is a veritable National Treasure. And it is in that capacity that I am currently working on a sculpture.

A couple of in-progress photos can be seen below...

Patrick Moore Redux

On my companion blog, McTodd Animates!, I discussed the first caricature sculpture I made, of BBC telly's favourite bonkers xylophone-playing octogenarian stargazer, Sir Patrick Moore. It was made for an online b3ta challenge in January. With only two evenings to make it before the deadline, I wasn't entirely happy with it, but it went down well. Some time after, I made new eyes and re-made the hair, which really picked it up, as you can see below...

You've got to start somewhere...

McTodd Animates! has spawned! Mainly to prevent the aforementioned companion blog from clogging up with non-animation posts...

Since I was a nipper, I've been fascinated by the art of caricature. At school, I used to draw little caricatures of schoolfriends, teachers, famous people off the telly and the like. My interest was further boosted by the advent of the ITV series Spitting Image, brainchild of the great caricature sculptors Luck & Flaw (Peter Fluck and Roger Law).

Unfortunately, I can't really draw for toffee but, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I do have some ability at Making Stuff, whether scale models, simple gadgets or - latterly - small sculptures. In fact, it was just before Spitting Image appeared that I first had a go at sculpting clay caricatures, under the influence of Luck & Flaw's occasional magazine covers which featured stunning tableaux depicting (in)famous politicians sculpted in plasticine. However, I only made a few and abandoned the whole thing until now, over twenty-five years later.

Hence this blog, which will feature my efforts at creating caricatures of famous people sculpted in clay...