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November 4, 2005

Elder Hat

by sven at 9:25 pm

On Thursday Oct 27, I got a crazy idea for a Halloween costume: I should dress up as one of the "Elder Things" from Let Sleeping Gods Lie!

I started with an old bicycle helmet. In the garage I found some squares of styrofoam that I've been hanging onto for years -- possibly from the dining room chairs' packaging? I cut holes in the styrofoam and then layered it around / on top of the helmet. I adhered everything together with sprayment.

Luckily, I didn't run out of sprayment until just as I was adding the final bit of foam. To sculpt the Elder Thing, I used a flexible blade -- the sort that folks who work with polymer clay use. Cutting, rather than scraping, minimized foam dust -- but foam dust is innevitable, and it got everywhere. The glue was slow to dry, and badly gummed up my blade. But hooray for latex gloves! It would have been much worse if the glue was all over me. Still, I got a blister from using the naked blade.

This is where I made a mistake. I've been so obsessed with sculpting techniques that layer stuff over foam, I moved on to the next step without thinking. What I should have done, was just use papier mache at this point. That would have been light-weight. Instead, I applied a thin layer of clay to the entire exterior. I'd scrape a bit of clay onto a wooden sculpting knife, then press it onto the foam like a small bandage. The thickness of this layer was only about 1/8"... Even so, I estimate that I used at least 10 pounds out of a 25 pound bag of clay. D'oh!

For this project I used a paper clay that I recently bought at Georgies. I anticipated cracking: clay shrinks as its water evaporates, and I was applying it to a solid core. My hope was that paper clay would shrink less and be stronger than typical clay... Even if it did help, though, the cracks were severe -- between 1/16" and 1/8" wide in some places.

I waited about 48 hours for the clay to dry completely, anxiously watching cracks develop. The clay visibly turned a lighter shade of gray when it was done drying, and it no longer felt cool to the touch. ...Curiously, three of the eye-stalks didn't crack. I'm wondering if I put the clay on thicker on these -- like 3/16" or 1/4" thick?

To help bind the whole thing together, I decoupaged tissue paper over its surface. [This had been part of the plan even before the cracks appeared.] I applied pieces that were approximately 6" square with watered down Elmer's glue, using a 1" wide brush. The tissue paper innevitably has some small wrinkles in it. It's acceptable -- but to an extent, defeats the intent of the clay, which was mainly to create a smooth surface. Still, the clay gives the tissue paper something really firm and well-shaped to cling to...

I painted on a layer of gesso. I mixed acrylic red with clear tar gel medium to make the eyes glossy. [The eyes were the one part of the critter that I didn't cover with tissue paper.] I gave the rest of the skin a wash of acrylic phthalo green. I started to sponge on a mottled layer of black... And then I ran out of time! Ack!

I worked right up to 5:30 on Halloween night. Then I admitted defeat. I brought the Elder Hat over from the studio, to display it as a work-in-progress. --And frantically looked around for something else to wear in its place...

Here's a photo of me modeling the unfinished Elder Hat on Halloween night. Mysteriously, all of the bicycle helmet's padding fell out while I was working on it -- so in this shot you can see that I've got a towel between my scalp and helmet. With the clay, this thing was very top-heavy. It wasn't bad on my neck -- but I had to strap the helmet on tightly so the thing wouldn't start leaning -- and that was no fun.

I finally got around to completing the piece this afternoon. I finished sponging on black acrylic, and gave the whole thing another glaze of phthalo green, to help mute the black. ...I'm kinda disappointed, though. It turned out much darker than I expected. Up close you can see that there's real depth to the color; but in anything less than bright light it just looks black.

Despite my mistake in using clay, and my disappointment with the color, I'm actually quite pleased with this project. It turns out that it's really going to be a sculpture, and not a costume... But as a sculpture, I finally got to do a completed piece using some of the techniques I've been exploring with little tests during the past few weeks. And it feels solid.

Total time spent on project (not including checking to see if it was dry, cleaning up, or blogging about it): 20 hours 15 minutes.

posted by sven | November 4, 2005 9:25 PM | categories: let sleeping gods lie, sculpture