22 November 2009

Unravel Me (x 2)

Unravel Me 2
16" x 20", oil on canvas, 2009, private collection

Unravel Me
15" x 22", watercolour, 1998, private collection

In the watercolour version painted over a decade ago, I superimposed the model over some Egyptian ruins for added mystery. Interestingly, the oil version is pretty mysterious without the ruins but with enhanced lighting (like in Fuel 2) and a moodier colour palette.

The model for these is very thin and, since you can see more of her lower body in the oil version, I cheated her hips and upper thighs, widening them a bit to achieve more of an "hourglass figure" look.

The background in the watercolour version is black and white and the sky was left white. This creates a nice wedge of negative space at the top, but I'm not sure if it reads as "black & white background and colour figure" as clearly as I intended. I tried this with another painting (same model, different Egyptian background).

I used this same photo ref in a larger oil painting called Absolve, but, as you can see if you click that link, it didn't work out.

18 November 2009

Fuel 2

36" x 24", oil on canvas, 2009, private collection

Over a year ago, I posted the original watercolour painting of Fuel with the larger, abstracted oil on canvas version and I mentioned at the end that I had done this other version. I linked to my Etsy shop once that was up and running this summer, but I still hadn't posted a picture of the new painting here.

I love the deep red background and it complements the greens of the sweater and bottle very nicely. I played with the lighting this time and exaggerated the brightness at her shoulder and had the light drop off somewhat toward the bottom to exaggerate the shadows (clearly going for a bit of a Phile Hale look to the lighting).

Concurrently with this painting, I made another "oil translation" of an existing watercolour featuring the same model in the same sweater. Stay tuned...

09 November 2009

Casey Post Script

fig. 17. Casey applies for a job with Blue Man Group while Punch looks on.

I mentioned near the end of Part One that Krista was most likely making the second Casey head for nefarious purposes...and I was right.

Not satisfied with making a second Casey head from my sculpt, Krista has sculpted her own Punch and has now cloned FIVE of them in paper maché (only one of which is pictured above). She's currently working on multiple Judy heads (you can see the design in her sketchbook behind Punch).

Kidding aside, these are just the base colours of the heads; they'll look different when they're done...although I still suspect nefarious intentions regarding Casey: Krista mentioned something about a Gollum puppet...

UPDATE, 12 December 2010: Krista finished her Dark Casey quite a while ago, but I've finally blogged about him here. Enjoy!

03 November 2009

Casey Replicant : : Part Two

fig. 8. Sunburned Casey.

I decided to use a dark colour for the base coat of acrylic paint (the same way I would use a dark colour for the underpainting of my oil paintings as a nice primer) even though this probably would be covered up entirely by successive layers of lighter Caucasian skin tones to match the original puppet.

fig. 9. Head and hands with final skin paint colour.

Here’s the final skin tone for Casey after several coats/attempts at matching the original puppet. It’s still not a perfect match, but it’s good enough for this project --successive gene splicing experimentation will eventually yield better replicants.

fig. 10. Painted facial features and details.

I used the opposite end of the brush to make the tiny dots of Casey’s freckles since I didn't have a fine-tipped brush at the time of painting. In fact there are some unfortunate smudges made by the not-so-fine brush I had to use for the fine detail work (my better brushes were at my studio in Scarborough). Next time I'll be better prepared.

fig. 11. Finished head and hands on fabric for shirt and pants costume.

Painting the face was the end of the line for me as I currently don’t have the skills or experience to make a costume for a puppet and attach it to the head and hands, so Krista took over from here using the fabrics above. I love that he will have corduroy pants.

fig. 12. Skinhead Casey.

I'll let Krista describe the costume making process:

Krista here, happy to be guest blogging! First I drilled holes around the bottom of Casey's neck, and around his wrists. The sewing of the costume was basically just a series of tubes: a tube for his shirt which I sewed to his neck, a tube for his pants which I sewed to the bottom of his shirt, then a tube attached to each hand. I cut arm holes into the shirt and sewed them on from the inside. Finally I created a turtle neck and cuffs; these hid all the stitching quite nicely.

fig. 13. Finished Casey Replicant with hair by Krista.

The yarn Krista found for his hair was thinner than the original puppet’s and had a bit of green running through it but, once she was done, the effect was amazing. Using rubber cement she first glued some yarn to the head and then made a “wig” and attached that overtop.

fig. 14. Finished Casey Replicant meets Krista’s Finnegan Replicant.
Krista had finished her Finnegan about a week before our Casey was finally “born.” I think they look great together; for a few days it looked like we had raided the CBC vault and had puppet contraband in our home. Yet one key component was still missing...

fig. 15a. Finished Replicants with sandra as Mr. Dressup at the party.

I still find this mind-blowing: our friend who invited us to her (and her two housmates') Can-con Halloween Party dressed up as Mr. Dressup. We kept our puppet-making a secret so she had no way of knowing what we were bringing, and on top of that, she only came up with the idea one day before the party.

fig. 15b. Finished Replicants with sandra as Mr. Dressup at the party.

I arrived at the party a little bit before Krista and when I saw sandra I knew immediately who she was dressed as. Krista was bringing the puppets with her, so I still had to keep the Secret of the Replicants, but of all the people there, sandra deserved to know what was in store, so I told her.

fig. 15c. Finished Replicants with sandra as Mr. Dressup at the party.

The puppets were a smash hit since everybody recognized them immediately and the three of us looked great together. The only things missing were the treehouse and the famed Tickle Trunk. Casey and Finnegan got passed around, photographed, almost corrupted by alocohol, and generally enjoyed by all.

fig. 16. Replicant and CBC Actual: a side-by-side comparison.

My puppet could be a little cuter, a little smoother, the chin a little pointier, the skin colour could be a little warmer, and the bridge of the nose a little less pronounced, but overall, he's a pretty good replica, considering this is My First Puppet Ever.

My greatest thanks to Krista for helping me with this, to Judith Lawrence for making and operating the original Casey and Finnegan, and to Ernie Coombs for being Mr. Dressup and entertaining so many children and firing up our imaginations for decades.

PS: There's more...

Go back and read PART ONE.

02 November 2009

Casey Replicant : : Part One

This year, a friend of ours invited us to a Halloween party with a Can-con (Canadian content) theme and Krista almost immediately decided to (not dress up as, but) replicate the Finnegan puppet from CBC’s long-running and beloved kid’s show, Mr. Dressup as designed by puppeteer Judith Lawrence. I thought that was a great idea and, after seeing her make one excellent puppet after another, I knew she’d do a great job (and she did). I mentally entertained the notion of building the Casey puppet from the same show for about ten seconds before dismissing the idea on the grounds that I had never sculpted a puppet before and there didn’t seem to be enough time for me to fumble my way through something new. After a few days Krista suggested I make Casey. Since I still hadn’t thought of a good Can-con person or thing to go as, and trusting that she’d guide me through it (and make the costume!), I decided to go for it.

What follows isn't so much a tutorial as it is a document of My First Puppet.


fig. 1. Tools of the trade.

Clay in the bowl on the right, reference photo of Mr. Dressup, Casey, and Finnegan in the middle, and wire and pliers on the left for making the armature of Casey’s hands. The clay had been sitting in water, re-hydrating after being in storage. Even if clay dries out completely (but not if you fire it in a kiln), it can be re-hydrated and reused over and over again.

fig. 2. Balls-of-clay are easy to sculpt.

Much of my backup clay (not pictured) was too wet to work with effectively, so I left this ball to dry out a bit until the next day so it could become more workable and not so mucky.

fig. 3. Weird Proportions.

My first attempt at sculpting since high school resulted in Weird Proportions, but I was on the right track so I left it like this at the end of that session, knowing I’d have to resume sculpting and fix the problems another day.

fig. 4. Chocolate Casey.

Not working on this for a few days gave me the objectivity to figure out how I could fix the proportion problems. Having additional photo reference showing Casey in profile was a major help, too. I used my fingers and sculpting tools for this phase.

fig. 5. The Ghost of Casey Future.

I had no time to paper maché over the finished clay sculpture, so Krista took over this phase (which I did not witness or photograph, unfortunately). She laid down three layers of paper over the clay and then, once the paper was dry, cut a vertical slit from behind each ear down to the bottom of the neck and then carefully peeled the paper off of the clay. The seams were stapled and/or taped up and then sealed with another layer of paper maché.

fig. 6. Two heads are better than one.

Krista wanted to make the most of the mold, so she made another head –most likely for nefarious purposes. White (copy) paper or brown (paper bag) paper is better for lasting paper maché puppets than using newsprint. The second replicant is brown simply because that’s what was handy in our recycling bin at the time.

Once the head dried, I painted it with a clear gesso that dries to a matte finish. This process can be repeated as many times as desired, sanding with fine sandpaper between applications, to get as smooth a surface on the puppet as possible, but I didn’t have that kind of time, so, even after some sanding and using an x-acto knife to cut some excess bumps and sharp bits left of paper or tape, Casey is still a little rough.

fig. 7. Paper maché hands by Krista.

Since my time for this project was very limited and I had more urgent projects to tend to, Krista helped me out a great deal with Casey, beginning with making his hands (and then covering the clay sculpture with paper maché). She made a cardboard tube for his wrists (based on rough measurements of my fingers) to which she attached the wire skeleton of his hands. Over the wire, she built up the form with masking tape and then covered that with paper maché.

Next: Painting Casey.