I was always curious about how far Martha Armstrong-Hand took her figure, modeled in oil-clay, before she removed it from the modeling stand and cut it apart for molding in plaster and casting in carving wax for further development. This is what she has to say about that point in her modeling process:
As you gradually come to the surface of your creation, you begin to close the form. In other words, you make the skin. Depending on the size of your sculpture you can do this with your fingers or tools. But remember, every tool used should fit the form, whether it is a spoon, dental tool, a spatula or the end of a knife.
This kind of modeling takes me two or three days if I don't think of anything else and work with a deadline. Don't stretch it longer than a week, as you might lose the connection with your piece. 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.
I have been modeling my oil-clay figure for months now, so it is quite possible that I have lost the connection with my piece, but I have too much time and energy invested in it to quit now. I have told myself that this figure is finished as completely as I know how. I am still planning on doing a wee bit more modeling on her after I get her off the modeling stand, but for the most part, I have finished and all of her forms have been completed. In other words, I feel like I am ready to work with cast carving wax doll parts from now, onwards.
The beginning doll artist might not realize that he or she is starting at the most difficult level, namely the human body. I know of no school to which I could send you except books. If you were to take a course or study sculpting with me, I would start you out with simple forms: an egg, a cube, a composition thereof. Some drawing books have even simplified the human form down to those shapes.
For me, an apprenticeship by reading and studying books is the most affordable and the most adaptable to my lifestyle. I have tried to do a little bit of work on my doll every day, and that mindset has resulted in an oil-clay figure that did not exist before I started working. So far, by investing a little bit of time every day, over the past few months, I have taken an idea and a desire, and made it into an oil-clay figure that is almost ready for molding.
One of the best ways to study is to work on your sculpture. When you feel you need help, find the appropriate chapter or chapters in one or more books and try to apply what you find there. Book reading should feel like going to a favorite teacher and asking for advice. If you have a chance, go to a museum and look at good sculpture. Realistic or simplified pictures help, but walking around a piece is the experience you want.
I have used books and Internet resources to help me to study sculpture. I feel that I have done well, considering that this is my first ball-jointed doll. This next part is about getting the oil-clay figure ready for molding. This is still part of the modeling phase of the process.
Getting Ready to Make the Molds
When you come to the next phase, I can understand that you have doubts and hesitations about following in my footsteps. Here you have worked so hard on your sculpture and now you should cut it apart? Is there no other way? Don't worry, nothing is lost. The cutting is only to make it easier to work on the parts, and each part can be finished in Plastiline for appropriate mold making no matter how rough the first cut turns out. For instance, the wire can be cut shorter inside the soft clay or clay added where necessary.
Maybe this is a good place to ask ourselves some questions: When we see our creation complete in our mind, do we know the exact pose it is going to be in?
This question is moot because I am making a ball-jointed doll, not a static statuette or figurine, nor a doll with modeled head, legs, and arms attached to a cloth body.
Whatever we visualize at this point, our next craft to be learned is mold making.
Why do we make molds?
1. To make a record of the form or forms we have created.
2. To work in a different material than we modeled in (from clay to wax, etc.).
3. To duplicate the image we achieved more than once: to make a limited edition.
But before we start, we reach another crossroad. Which parts of our modeled figure need a mold?
All the parts of the doll will need a mold because all of the parts are unique, and I will be making a fully articulated ball-jointed doll.
We make the choice of mold material depending on the substance used for duplication. Here is our plan: We will cast plaster over Plastiline, plaster over water clay, plaster over plaster, plaster over wax, and porcelain slip into plaster. But first we must close all forms by cutting wires and adding clay where needed so that molding can proceed without interruption.
We are now ready for mold making. The most important decision in this process is the choice of mold material. We must ensure that the model does not stick to the mold. The final model must come out of the mold unmarred, and the new cast must be released without any sticking.
This is where I will be doing something a little differently than Martha Armstrong-Hand. My choice of a mold material for the first set of molds is hot-pour moulage. The reason I am choosing hot-pour moulage is because this first set of molds are waste molds for casting carving wax into. The hot pour moulage works very similar to water-saturated plaster for casting carving wax, except that hot-pour moulage is reusable.
I would like to explain Martha's plan, as described above.
Cast plaster over Plastiline refers to making the first half of the plaster mold over the oil-clay original.
I believe that Plaster over water clay refers to either using water clay for the original modeling or for the mold bed?
Plaster over plaster refers to casting the second half of the plaster mold over the original oil-clay figure embedded in the first half of the plaster mold.
Plaster over wax refers to making plaster molds over the carving wax patterns.
Porcelain slip into plaster refers to casting porcelain slip in the final paster molds.
I am currently doing a lot of thinking about getting my oil-clay figure ready for molding. In the photo below, I stuck a fettling knife in the back of the oil-clay figure, and sliced down until I hit the hip piece of the wooden armature. Then I measured how far that was from the middle of the back iron. Maybe I will use this measurement later on? I have also circled a couple of places where the wooden armature is showing. Before I use this armature the next time, I am going to trim it some more. Click on any image to enlarge it.
The question in my mind right now is: How do I want to cut the legs off the torso? One way is to cut the legs straight off at the level of the bottom of the bum (the red line). The other way is to cut them off at an angle (the green lines). In the working drawing, shown in the background, the green line is over a line I drew showing where the edge of the wooden hip armature is. The wire for the legs goes into this wooden piece on both sides.
What I may end up doing is a double cut, along the green lines, and along the red lines. Then, later, after removing the leg wires from the wooden hip armature, I can put the wedges back on the torso.
I removed the head and placed it on the little portable head modeling stand. Then I clamped some Vice-grip pliers onto the neck armature wire. This is so I will have another place to grasp the doll when lifting it from the modeling stand. I do not want to drop the oil-clay figure at this point, after months of modeling. That would just break my heart. I will have the Vice-grip pliers and the back iron to grasp when moving the figure.
My plan is to 1. unscrew the bolt that is screwed into the vertical upright, then 2. lift up the back iron while grasping the Vice-grip pliers and the back iron. I will lay the oil-clay figure face-down, or on her side, on the pillow that is on the metal tray. From there, I can unscrew the back iron from the torso, in order to get ready to cut the legs so I can remove them from the torso. I will only be cutting oil-clay, down to the wire armature; and I will not be cutting the wire armature, so I can reuse it for another figure. So far, this armature has stood up to months of modeling without collapsing or distorting. I am very happy with how it has worked for this figure.
Learning to be a Doll Artist: an apprenticeship with Martha Armstrong-Hand.
Livonia, WI: Scott Publications, 1999.
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