Monday, April 9, 2012

04 Modeling Nº 18

I have more or less finished the Peter Rubino torso tutorial. This is the first one I have done, following that tutorial. It will not be the last one that I do. I really had a lot of fun with this torso tutorial, and enjoyed making this torso.

It still needs the surface to be finished, but this is probably as far as I am going to take this particular torso. It was modeled using Roma Plastilina oil-clay. Roma Plastilina contains sulfur, so I will not be using it for anything that requires silicone rubber to be in contact with it.

Click Here to watch a step-by-step Youtube video about Peter Rubino's torso tutorial.

There are three main boney masses in a human figure that do not really change in volume, no matter what pose the model may take. These three large boney masses are the skull, the ribcage, and the pelvis. All these three large boney masses are connected together by the spine.

For the torso tutorial, Peter Rubino starts out with the ribcage and pelvis modeled as two rectangular shapes that are roughly the same mass and volume, but they are oriented differently, with the ribcage being turned up on its end, and the pelvis on its side. They are joined by a ball of clay which represents the lower back.

The tutorial in Peter Rubino's book talks about Bend, Lean, and Tilt (BLT), as well as Position, Proportion, and Planes (3P). The stages of modeling are Foundation, Forms, and Finish. The Foundation of the figure is built up of large geometric forms, to which the smaller anatomical Forms are added. Parts of those geometric forms are also subtracted in order to refine the torso. Finally, the Forms are blended together to Finish the figure. It seems to be a very good system for learning how to model a human figure. He calls it The Clay Block System.

I wrote these notes when I was in the process of following the torso tutorial in Rubino's book. I write and sketch in order to understand a subject better.

Musings about modeling a human figure in clay.

I have a lot of trouble with human anatomy. Perhaps it is some sort of mental block? Probably. Whatever it is, I do not seem to be able to put all those Latin names together with a drawn, or modeled human figure, no matter how I approach it.

I can look at the diagrams in books, read the Latin anatomical names, see where the lines go, and what the arrows point to, but for the life of me, when I close the book, everything I have looked at and read, disappears. I probably need to take some time to draw a labeled artistic anatomy poster for myself that I can just keep tacked up on the wall?

I am, however, familiar with the common names for the human body, and I will use those. That way I can just type, and not have to stop every minute or two to look up the Latin names. I am much less likely to get it wrong this way.

What that means in real life is that I am not an artistic anatomy geek. Some sculptors are. I am not. I will say front, back, and side; top, bottom, middle, and so forth, instead of the corresponding Latin anatomical terms.

In order to model a convincing figure in clay, it is necessary to have a basic knowledge of the underlying anatomy of the human figure in order to model the surface forms realistically. The deep muscles and organs of the body are not really a part of artistic anatomy because they do not inform the surface anatomy for the most part. Knowing the guts is not necessary for me to make a doll.

Artistic anatomy is much simpler than medical anatomy, or the anatomy that massage therapists, physical trainers, yoga teachers, and other related professionals should know. If I get the anatomy wrong on my modeled clay figure, no one is going to get hurt. That is a very important distinction to make. First, do no harm.

This is like one of those Catch-22 loops. I need to know the underlying human anatomy that informs the surface anatomy of a representational figure, but I have some sort of mental block that keeps me from learning all those Latin names of things, and relating them to a realistically modeled surface.

Whatever my problem is, it is my problem; and artistic human anatomy should be learned if a realistic human figure is the desired result of modeling the human figure in clay. I am constantly trying to learn it. I will never give up. I will never surrender.

While I am currently working through the torso tutorial in Peter Rubino's book, I am just trying to do whatever he says to do in each step of the tutorial whether I understand it, or not. This is a typical beginner stage of development. The beginner does not always understand all the lessons being taught. One nice thing about Rubino's book is that anatomical terms are used very sparingly. He says right up front that his book is not an anatomy book. It is a book about modeling the human figure in clay. If I am interested in seeing how a clay figure is built-up bone by bone, and muscle by muscle, then I can look at Bruno Luccesi's book, Modeling The Figure In Clay: A Sculptor's Guide To Anatomy, which is an artistic anatomy book.

As I am working on the figure, I am beginning to see how each step is building the figure, from the large, basic geometric shapes at the beginning, through adding clay to, and subtracting clay from those geometric shapes, to blending and defining those forms, to make the finished human figure.

One thing I have noticed about the various human figure book tutorials that I have is that the teacher breaks the forms down into large simple masses at the start, then works on those large masses, building up the forms by adding and subtracting clay to finally refine the details at the end. They never start by modeling details at the beginning.

As they work on each detail, they show each part of that detail, and also include how the various parts connect to each other and to the parts around them. This seems to make a very complex form much simpler. The trick is to be able to see the big masses in the beginning, and to see how the various surface forms relate to the big masses, and to the other forms around them, as the figure is being modeled. To be the most convincing, it really helps to know what the human anatomy beneath those forms is doing to cause the surface forms to appear as they do.

I am trying to put something I do not understand very well into words. One of the keys seems to be familiarity. I am trying to become familiar with the human form by modeling it in clay. It is by doing that I am becoming familiar with the forms that make the human form.

I cannot understand any of this by reading alone. I must read, then practice what I read. I cannot be afraid to try to do any of it. I cannot be afraid to show what I am trying to do. And even though I have a mental block with human anatomy terms, I must not let that stop me from continuing to study artistic human anatomy, and trying to relate it to the surface anatomy of the figure.

When I take digital photos of what I am doing, that is one way to see my own work through a different filter. I can take the digital photo and flip it around, look at it upside-down, squint my eyes at it, and so forth. Any of these things can work as a trigger to get my right brain working. It is the right hemisphere of the brain that is the visual, spacial, artistic lobe of the brain.

Of course, I can also do many of those things without a digital camera and a computer. For example, instead of flipping a photo, I can look at the figure in a mirror, or rotate it in my hands while squinting at it, and so forth. The one thing that actually handling the figure has, that I cannot get with a digital photo is that I can employ my sense of touch to feel the forms on the figure.

However, the photos are a visual snapshot of that particular moment in time, so they have that advantage. I can look at them days, weeks, months or years later and see what I was doing at that particular moment.

The digital photos are a document of my work-in-progress. I think that it is very important to document what I am trying to do. The other advantage of making the digital photos of my work-in-progress is that I am able to share what I am currently doing with my friends.

Am I making any progress at all? Am I learning from my mistakes at all, or am I continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again? I do not have a Master sculptor looking over my shoulder as I am working, so I must learn to step back and try to see where my own work needs more work.

I must try very hard to develop my own eyes to try and observe my own work to see where I need to improve. I must continually try to develop an attitude that allows me to strive to do better work each and every day.

So here I am, at the stage of building up a rough clay figure that I can model some oil-clay over, in order to make a ball-jointed doll. I think this is an important distinction to make. I am trying to make a figure that will be poseable, using ball and socket joints, and will be tensioned with elastic or springs. I am not trying to make a static, non-poseable sculpture, attached to a base, that can only be looked at. I want to be able to play with my figure sculpture. It will be a work of art, and it will be a toy at the same time. That is what makes it a doll.

First of all, I need to understand the various large boney masses of the figure. These large, relatively unchanging masses are; the head, the ribcage, and the pelvis.

The head has the underlying skull as a large boney mass. The lower jawbone is the only moving part of the head, and for the purpose of my doll, the mouth will be closed; so for all practical purposes, the skull and the jawbone are one piece. The skull is connected to the ribcage by the spine and various muscles. The top of the spine ends at the skull.

The ribcage is another large boney mass that does not change in volume too much. In a real human, the ribcage does expand and contract slightly, for the purposes of breathing. However, for a sculpture, this is not a consideration. So I can treat the ribcage as a single large solid mass. It is connected to the pelvis by the spine, and various muscles.

The arms are also connected to the ribcage by the shoulder blades, the collar bones, and various muscles, which, for modeling purposes can be considered parts of the ribcage. The shoulder blades on a real human are flat, free floating bones on the back of the ribcage, connected to the ribcage by various muscles.

The collar bones are connected to the top middle front of the ribcage, also known as the breastbone, at one end, and to the shoulder blades at the other end. Both the shoulder blades and the collar bones are what the bones of the upper arm are connected to. This allows for the range of motion of the arms in a real human. Nevertheless, the shoulder blades and collar bones can be considered as a part of the ribcage, and the ribcage can be considered as one large boney mass.

The pelvis is the third large boney mass that does not change volume in different poses. It is the other end point for the spine. The legs are connected to the pelvis by the thigh bones and various muscles.

Besides the three large, relatively unchanging boney masses mentioned above, there are also the limbs of the figure. These are the arms and the legs.

The arms consist of the upper arms, the lower arms, and the hands. The arms are jointed at the shoulders, the elbows, and the wrists. These are the main joints of the arms, and for the purpose of making my doll, these are the only joints I am going to consider. This is one of my own personal design considerations. The other design consideration about the arm joints is whether they should be single or double joints at the elbows. I choose single joints.

The legs consist of the upper legs, or thighs, the knees, the lower legs, with the calves, and the feet. The legs are jointed at the hips, the knees, and the ankles. These are the main joints of the legs for the purposes of making a doll. I choose to make single jointed knees rather than double jointed knees.

Because a ball-jointed doll is a dynamic poseable figure, and not a static sculpture that cannot be posed and is attached to a base, the basic figure is modeled in a straight standing pose without any contraposto.

Contraposto is how the pose of a static figure is described that has the weight of the figure bearing on one leg, or the other. The weight bearing leg makes the hip higher on the weight-bearing side, causing a tilt in the pelvis. To compensate for that tilt, the ribcage is tilted in the opposite direction, giving the spine the "S" curve that is aesthetically desirable in such a static figure.

To obtain a similar aesthetic in a poseable figure, the torso may be jointed in one or more places, such as right below the ribcage, and right above the pelvis. The main choices for jointing the torso are to have no joints at all, like for a one-piece torso; to have a two-piece torso, with a joint right below the ribcage, or right above the pelvis; or to have a three-piece torso with joints right below the ribcage, and right above the pelvis.

I would like to mention here that ball-jointed dolls that have a joint in the torso right under the breasts are not anatomically correct. The breasts are forms that rest on top of the ribcage, and the ribcage is a large boney mass that does NOT bend under the breasts at all. In a real human being, the ribcage is not jointed under the breasts.

While the contraposto tilt, and other pose considerations, such as bend and lean, are important for making an aesthetically pleasing static sculpture, they are not as important when modeling a ball-jointed doll because it is important for the doll to have bi-lateral symmetry, so it can stand on its own when tensioned with elastic or springs.

Anyway, it seems to me that the first things to understand are the large boney masses, and how they relate to each other in a straight, standing pose.

The head, viewed in profile, without the facial features, will have a straight vertical line for the front of the face. The skull will be an oval, and the jawbone will be somewhat rectangular. The skull will be attached to the ribcage by the neck, which is a part of the spine. The neck will have a forward slanted line through the middle of it. The neck, where it is attached to the skull, is the top of the spine. The other end of the neck rests on top of the ribcage.

The ribcage, viewed in profile, is a flattened egg shape that is slightly tilted back, with the large end of the egg towards the bottom. The front view of the ribcage is also an egg shape, with the wide end of the egg towards the bottom.

There is nothing boney between the large boney mass of the ribcage and the large boney mass of the pelvis except the spine of the lower back. This is where gymnasts have all their amazing flexibility, it seems. No matter how far they can bend forward, sideways, or backwards, their ribcage and pelvis seem to stay the same mass and volume, but the bending, leaning, and tilting happen in the lower back, between the ribcage and the pelvis.

Getting back to modeling an oil-clay figure over a wire armature for the purposes of making a doll, the same techniques that a sculptor uses to model a static figurine or a static statuette are used to model a ball-jointed doll. Each of the parts of the doll are examined individually, and decisions are made for each of these parts. As each part is examined and decisions are made, the clay modeling proceeds from large masses to smaller forms built on top of those large masses, to the final blending of the forms to show how they are interconnected. Everything in the human form is interconnected in some way or another. The three main boney forms are interconnected via the spine. The spine is curved. There you go.

All the time that these things are happening, the sculptor is also struggling to keep the figure balanced and symmetrical. Modeling a figure in clay is a very simple skill that can be learned in a relatively short period of time, that will take the rest of your life to master, if you decide to continue doing it. The secret to modeling in clay is that it can only be learned by doing, and that the only way to learn it by doing is to practice, practice, and practice some more.

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