So I have been away from the drawing board for a while, busy with a whole host of different things, one of which was my doll for the recent Little Deities exhibition at No Vacancy Gallery. Organised by Daniel Atkinson, it was a great event involving 60 artists, all of whom were given a toy baby doll to convert into their own version of a conceptual modern-day deity. This left the brief pretty much wide open, so the wide variety of art at the exhibition was very exciting to see!
Needless to say, I totally panicked at the idea of making a doll to be displayed alongside all the great artists who were approached to participate. Having never really sculpted before, or touched paint since high school, I was going in pretty much blind. I did a lot of online research into different materials and how they work together, so I thought I'd write up this little “making of” to share my experience with you guys. I got so much out of this project, starting with simply confronting my fear of traditional materials. Working on this little guy taught me patience; it forced me to sit back and think carefully about my process, which I believe was very good for me (as someone who is totally addicted to the flexibility and 'safety' of working digitally).
I decided I really wanted to remove the whole face of the doll, and replace it with a wide, gaping mouth. I opted for Sculpey (polymer clay) as I liked the idea of using a material that was infinitely workable (at least until baked), being someone who had never really sculpted before.. I ended up using some regular Sculpey (which is rubbish!), some Super Sculpey (much stronger than regular) and translucent Sculpey for the teeth (a little trick that I learned from Mr. Chicken's blog). Because I was attaching the Sculpey to a plastic doll, I was unable to bake it in the oven, as per the instructions. However, I read online that you could instead set the Sculpey by boiling it, and after testing this on one of my doll's legs (I was able to use the legs for all my testing because I had decided to make his body into a 'slug' shape anyway), I decided to go ahead with it.
I started by removing the doll's face.. a task that I had expected to be quite difficult, but as it turned out I was able to do in a couple of minutes using a scalpel. It pretty much sliced through the thin, soft plastic like butter! At the same time, I removed the legs and built a rough wire armature for the 'slug' body, running wire through the leg holes and out around the back of the doll. I then used regular Sculpey to build the slug body over my wire armature.
It also quickly became evident that I was going to have to make the head a lot stronger to hold the weight of the sculpted mouth and teeth. I started by making small, intermittent holes around the mouth cavity, and then ran wire through them, to brace the mouth shape and keep it a bit more solid.
Meanwhile, I had been sculpting teeth whenever I had a few moments. It took a few turns before I figured out the most appropriate size for the teeth. I also tested baking vs. boiling the translucent Sculpey, as I wanted the yellowy tone that baking gave to it. I ended up baking them for a few minutes before finishing the process by boiling. This was a matter of careful timing, as you can see by all my reject teeth below!
For testing purposes, I took one of my good teeth and made a little section of gum for it out of Super Sculpey, which is naturally pink and translucent and so seemed ideal for gums and lips. I was able to push the tooth into the gum and sculpt wrinkles into it, then reboil to set the gum. I then used a thin wash of red paint and water on the Super Sculpey, effectively staining it and giving it a nice, mottly, gummy, pink look. The red paint also settled into the creases I had sculpted which made lovely red wrinkles. By varnishing this whole thing I was able to create a pretty effective wet mouth appearance.
I covered the edge of the mouth cavity with Super Sculpey and started to plan out how I would position the tongue, etc. I positioned all the teeth I had selected and loosely pushed them into the gums as placeholders. Each tooth had to have the Super Sculpey hand sculpted and 'tightened' around it to keep it in place, and even then a couple would fall out later. This was not a problem though because I had some super super super glue which came in very handy at multiple stages of this project. I used rubbing alcohol as I sculpted to smooth the surface of the Sculpey (apparently this is better than water for use on polymer clays).
This was probably the doll's creepiest looking stage. Once all the teeth were 'set' he actually looked quite horrifying (the lips were yet to come). By now I had also filled the inside of the head with a thin layer of Aves Apoxie Sculpt, a wonderful type of taxidermy clay that also saved my arse later in the process. Unlike Sculpey, it does not have to be baked in order to set, and instead consists of two separate clays that you mix together. Once mixed, you have about 3 hours work time before it will become too solid to sculpt with (although this can be extended a little by consistently moistening the clay with water as you work). After 24 hours, it is rock hard and much, much stronger than Sculpey. This was why I used it to cover the inside of the head, in order to solidify the head and ensure it would be able to take the weight of the mouth. I then covered the Aves with another layer of Super Sculpey, because I wanted the inside of the mouth to be the same colour as the gums and lips.
With the body and gum sculpting complete, I was ready for the moment of truth.. BOILING POINT!
And this is where disaster struck! I had taken all that care to solidify the inside of the head, and had completely ignored the chest area! Prior to boiling, I DID fill the base of the doll with builder's foam, but that stuff was very difficult to work with and was done in a rush. I had also covered the top of the builder's foam (inside the doll's body) with another thin layer of Aves Apoxie Sculpt, in order to prevent water getting into the foam. However, the chest cavity was still untouched. This meant that once the doll was immersed in boiling water, the plastic became very soft and simply buckled under the weight of that great big mouth. I had half foreseen this (remember how I said the Aves Apoxie Sculpt saved my arse..?) and I pulled him out of the water quickly. What followed was 3 hours of frantic Aves sculpting, wherein I basically built right over the top of the weak-arse Sculpey, filling in the cracks and strengthening the body.
In the process I broke a whole big section off the slug base. I had to be patient enough to allow the Aves to set before fixing this, as otherwise I would smoosh an already sculpted section every time I picked him up. I ended up simply rebuilding that whole broken section with Aves, which worked fine. Thank the lord for Aves Apoxie Sculpt!!!
Fortunately I was able to set the mouth area by simply holding the doll upside down so his head was immersed in the boiling water. The Super Sculpey was very quick to set in boiling water which was a WIN! Then it was time to sculpt the lips. I was able to take my time here and work without fear of accidentally destroying a different part of the doll by grabbing onto soft Sculpey, which was refreshing. I set the lips by boiling him upside down again. Easy!
By this stage everything was looking kinda manky, and the Super Sculpey was covered in white grit that I actually suspect is a result of using rubbing alcohol over the surface. While researching, I also read that lighter fluid was good for smoothing Sculpey, which is something I would consider trying for next time. Anyway I was able to smooth everything out pretty well using sandpaper and steel wool. I started with a super rough paper for big areas and worked my way down to the wool for a relatively smooth finish.. During the sanding phase I actually dropped him again and chipped yet another section off the base.. but it was super glue to the rescue!!
You'd never even know...!
And then it was time to paint! Unfortunately my pictures of this stage were just taken on my iPhone so they are pretty dodgy quality. Anyway I just used a couple of coats of primer on the body before the black. However, I left the Super Sculpey bare because I wanted it to absorb the red paint like my test tooth did. I ended up making the lips really red to distinguish them better from the gums. By this stage I had also sculpted the tongue (also using a basic wire armature) and boiled it separately. I don't really have any photos of that unfortunately.. anyway I would later simply glue it in using my trusty super glue.
I did actually love how the doll looked with a matte finish, but ultimately I decided to go ahead with my original plan to varnish it, as my desire to make the mouth look nice and drooly won out.
I tried using some resin for the drool but it was just too hard to work with; during the setting process there was a window of only about 20 seconds in which it was a good consistency to drip down his mouth, and I was simply too terrified to put it anywhere near my doll. So I ended up just using trusty old glossy varnish for the drool. I mixed it up a little before applying it around the mouth, to get nice bubbles in there. I also ended up sitting the doll in front of the open gas oven, so that the heat would speed up the setting of the varnish as I slathered it all over his mouth. This meant I was able to get some nice drooly drips off the bottom of his lips.
Yayyy! Finished!! I ran out of time to take nice daytime photos of the finished product before having to drop him off for the exhibition.. however he ended up being purchased by a good friend of mine so I'm sure I will get a chance to photograph him properly in the future.
Overall this was a fantastic learning experience for me. Apart from learning about all these different materials and the best ways to work with them, it also taught me patience and contemplation, two things that I believe I was seriously lacking..
I am already thinking about my next sculpture project!
That's all for now!