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  Portraits In Clay

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Polymer Clay to Bronze Demonstration (Miniature Bust)


This demonstration will cover making a polymer miniature bust from concept to finished piece in lost wax bronze. To start, I study the reference photos and  make several of these quick computer mock ups to visualize the pose, expression, hair treatment, and technical aspect of how to build the sculpture.


Left - Next, I print off a photo to scale of a good profile shot. I drill a hole in a board to hold a 12 inch piece of copper pipe. The pipe needs to be able to be moved in and out of the hole easily. For a miniature, most of the time I will hold the pipe in one hand and sculpt with the other. This allows me to turn the sculpture in all directions and view all angles while sculpting. Also, I do not squish the soft clay with my left hand by holding it directly.

Using one continuous piece of 4 gauge aluminum wire, I slide the wire all the way down the tube and bend the upper portion with pliers to form a structure that fits well within the interior of the scaled image.

Right - I place a small ball of aluminum foil in the interior of the head mass (brains) and then cover most of the armature with polymer clay (super sculpey), down past the top of the copper tube. I bake this portion for 20 minutes at 200 degrees to harden. This makes a firm, sturdy armature on which I can add the soft clay.

Next, the clay needs to be  conditioned. Chop up 8 oz of Premo Sculpey (hard) and 8 oz of Super Sculpey (soft).  Mix and gather the pile into a ball, then roll out into a long rope with the palms of your hands. Fold the rope over itself and repeat rolling to a rope. Repeat 5 or 6 times to mix and condition the clays well. This makes a medium consistency clay that won't crack or crumble.

Above is a quick rough-in of the basic head shape/volumes. I like to work from my computer screen whenever possible - the images can be seen more clearly than if I were to print them off, plus, I can zoom into any portion for a sharp view.

A little farther along, part of the hair, ears, and upper body are roughed in. After the rough in is complete, I'll study the photos and adjust/refine the sculpture to work on getting a close likeness. 

Another day of modeling passes. At this point, pieces of clay, no bigger than a pinhead are carefully applied with a tiny flat dental tool  and smoothed into the surface. The ear was modeled with a flat toothpick and an embossing tool. 

I decided to go ahead and start adding her dress and pony tail at this point. Since she is wearing a delicate little flower pattern dress, I thought it would be fun to make some little flower stamps to use for the texture. I carved some tiny flowers and cut a circle around these and baked them. This made a nice hard stamp head  that I glued on to a chop stick and imprinted the clay used for the dress. I ended up using only the small stamps - the others looked too big on that small space.

Here she is with her little flower dress - though hard to make out in this photo. Pony tail added also. If you don't bake the clay until the piece is completely finished, you can rework any portion at any time. I pretty much reworked the entire face to try to get a better likeness. 

Now it's time to put it under the bright lights, put on the magnifier glasses and start the refinement process. The clay can be smoothed and blended with a very small brush dipped in lighter fluid (use sparingly).

After looking at these photos, I decided she wasn't quite finished modeling. I proceeded to make her pony tail  a bit longer and fixed the scalp portion of her hair which had somehow ended up resembling a cantaloupe. Finally, I declared her finished. I then placed her on a bat of polyfiber and baked her at 200 degrees for 2 hours. That's what is great about this clay - no special equipment needed to harden it.

After baking the clay, let it sit in the oven and cool down completely overnight. If you take it out while it is still warm, there's a good chance it will crack.

After the piece is baked and cooled, you can polish it up with steel wool. You can also use fine wet/dry sandpaper (use it wet) to smooth out any rough areas.

Rinse the piece well with water, or use a can of air to blow off all particles. Wipe well with a soft, dry rag. The piece is now ready for the next step - molding.

Final version in Polymer clay


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