Friday, June 1, 2012

04 Modeling Nº 70

I am trying to follow Martha Armstrong-Hand's method of making a BJD. She starts out by writing down her ideas about the doll she wants to make in a notebook. Next she carefully plans her doll, deciding on at least the size of the doll, and the material she wants to use to make the doll.  Next she makes full size working drawings of the doll she wants to make. The working drawings include at least the front and side view of the doll. Then she uses the working drawings to construct a wire armature supported by a back iron fastened to a modeling stand (see #1 in the photo below).

She models the full figure in #2 oil-clay over a wire armature.
2. Start by covering the armature with oil-clay.
3. Continue to add oil-clay to the entire figure.
4. A traditional sculpture clay modeling additive technique is used.
5. The forms of the figure are defined as modeling continues.
6. The modeling continues until the surface (skin) of the figure is closed.
7. The oil-clay figure is removed from the back iron.
8. The figure is cut apart at the head, and limbs.
9. An arm being cut off the figure.

Once cut apart, the head, torso and limbs are molded, then carving wax is cast in the molds. This is the end of working in oil-clay. The doll is developed further in carving wax. Carving wax is strong enough to withstand elastic tensioning which is a necessary step in designing a ball-jointed doll.

How do you know when to stop modeling in oil-clay, and cast it?

Yesterday, I was asked that question about how much the oil-clay original should be  modeled before being taken off the back iron in order to cut it apart, mold it, and cast it into carving wax. In the following photo is an oil-clay figure by Martha Armstrong-Hand that shows #6. how far she modeled that particular doll before  #7. removing it from the back iron, and #8. & # 9. cutting it apart to be molded in order to cast it into carving wax.

It looks like most of the forms of the figure are finished, and she has smoothed the surface of the oil-clay figure as well as she could. I have circled the hands and feet in red, showing that she did not detail fingers or toes in oil-clay. I have also pointed to some small holes in one leg of the figure. Holes like that will need to be filled when the carving wax parts are made. Furthermore, the hands and feet will need to be carved to add the details like fingers and toes. I must add that Martha was apprenticed at age 17, to a wood carver in Berlin, from 1937 to 1939, so she was adept at carving.

When I was making the first version of my BJD, I often wondered just how far Martha Armstrong-Hand took her oil-clay figure before she decided to remove it from the armature, cut it apart, and make rough shell molds to cast carving wax into. Since then, I have gained some experience modeling the figure and working with carving wax, and I have found that there are some things which are easier to do in oil-clay, and some things which are easier to do in carving wax. It is the combination of those experiences which will inform me when to cast my oil-clay figure into carving wax.

I have found that it is important to know your materials and know your process. Each part of the process either informs another part of the process, or was informed by a part of the process. Each material is chosen for very specific properties and methods.

It is easier to do the additive modeling technique with oil-clay than with carving wax. So before I decide to cast my oil-clay figure in carving wax, I will want to have most of the forms modeled out to the final surface. Likewise, I will also want to have most of the surface anatomy details modeled in oil-clay. I know that I cannot finish the surface of the oil-clay to the same level as I can in carving wax, because the oil-clay is too soft. However, I can get the oil-clay much smoother than it is now. Right now, the surface of the oil-clay is very rough, due to blending the added coils of oil-clay together with a wooden rake tool. I still have a lot of work to do before I cast her in carving wax.

Carving wax is an amazing design material. For one thing, it can be cast hollow, much in the same way that porcelain slip can be cast hollow. It can be cut, drilled, carved, machined, welded, and sanded glass smooth. It is tough enough to withstand elastic tensioning. Because of the addition of talc, it has a very low rate of shrinkage.

The fact that it is tough enough to withstand elastic tensioning means that it is a wonderful material to use for designing ball and socket joints for a BJD. Cast carving wax balls may be welded to the limbs, using a wax pen, or a similar tool. The holes and slots may be cut and drilled in the balls so that elastic may be threaded through the body and limbs of the carving wax doll.

On page 26, in Chapter 4 Modeling, of LTBADA, Martha Armstrong-Hand writes: "As you gradually come to the surface of your creation, you begin to close the form. In other words, you make the skin. .... Tell yourself that you can stop only when the piece is finished as completely as you know how. If you want to learn more, make a new one! Don't fiddle with your forms if you don't know what to do. Go away and study."

On page 55, in Chapter 8 Wax Work, of LTBADA, Martha Armstrong-Hand writes: "The actual work is practice, practice and more practice: adding, subtracting and smoothing repeatedly. Often it seems that you have to destroy what you have just done to alter or fill a hole or indentation, or that adding to a shallow form does more harm than good until it is filled and the form pulled together again. Just like modeling in clay, you can only do what you can see and understand. Keep the forms simple and basic, but in wax you have to finish or smooth the surface."

As you can see, knowing when to cast the figure in carving wax depends on how far you want to take the figure modeling in oil-clay, as well as how much work you want to do to finish the doll parts once they have been cast in carving wax. Really, only experience can tell you when to do it. In order to gain experience, you must make a BJD. That is why I am on the third version of my first BJD.


Learning To Be A Doll Artist.
Martha Armstrong-Hand.
Livonia, MI: Scott Publications, 1999.

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  1. This was so very helpful, thanks!! Did you end up getting a copy of the book? I'm still searching for one to no avail :(

  2. You're welcome. Unfortunately, LTBADA is currently unavailable, online.


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