Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Elf is Born: Part 2

This Post Has MOVED!! Click HERE for updated post with full-color images

I am happy to say, that after a few dozen hours of work, the sculpting/baking of my elf is FINALLY COMPLETE

If you are curious about the process, read on. It will be a bit lengthy, but I'm sure you'll be intrigued. If you are simply anxious to see the results. Simply sit back, relax, and wait for the completion photos to arrive via my newsletter sometime mid-month.
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This post picks up from Part 1 Where I took you through all the pre-sculpting steps.

The Face

I start every magical sculpture by sculpting the face. I find the face to be the most difficult and tedious part to sculpt. If it turns out 'bad' then I start again (or leave it for the day). Since I don't follow a 'pattern' the face practically designs itself. I have a basic idea of the features I'm looking for. I sculpt them one at a time, and wait for a magical creature to look back at me. When the face is complete, I use that as a guide for completing the rest of the magical creature.

My 'guidelines' for this face were simply to make it about an inch tall, and somewhat lean, for a young sexy feminine look. I started by covering my foil/wire armature (see Part 1) with the conditioned clay. Conditioning the clay ensures that it is soft, consistent, and easy to work with. I formed a basic 'egg' shape for the head, and then sliced off the front section, for a flat 'blank palate' where I will slowly added facial features one at a time. Knowing the size of the eyes, I prebaked 2 partially flattened eyes using white glittered clay.

In a future post I will go into details on sculpting a face. For now, here's a brief overview. I marked the face in sections, carved in simple shapes for placement of the eyes, nose, and mouth. I first sculpted the mouth, lower then upper lip, then the nose, then added cheeks and chin. This process took nearly 2 hours as I added the clay in tiny pieces, smoothed, sculpted, smoothed some more... Once I was satisfied with the result I added features for the 'upper head' starting with the pre-baked eyeballs, eyelids, and forehead.

A freshly sculpted face is very soft and easy to damage. So I set it aside for the day to 'set' (slightly harden)

Many artists will choose to bake the face at this point. And while it's 'risky' to handle a 'raw' face I prefer to bake head and torso together. The torso core was created by wrapping a thick sheet of foil around my armature wire. When the foil was shaped and set, I sculpted ears onto the face. Ears are rather fragile and so I don't risk breaking them before the torso core is set.

The Torso

I sculpt a torso based on the final desired costume theme. Since my plan for this elf included underwear and a coat, I was able to 'tone down' the detail in the chest area and entire back since those will not be visible. I started sculpting the torso by covering the foil core with well-conditioned clay. I added more clay as needed to form the chest, ribs and belly. I then added clay to form the neck and spent a few hours adding details with a small needle and pen ink-well. The torso took me about a day to complete.

After a full day of sculpting I tend to get a 'lazy' attitude towards minor flaws. Knowing this, I don't like to bake the same day sculpting. I set the torso aside to 'set' with the intention of returning with 'fresh eyes' to edit any major flaws I missed. I poked 2 holes for inserting the legs to help the future raw clay adhere to the baked torso. I would normally do the same for the arms, but not for this one. Since I plan to sculpt a coat, I wasn't sure yet about the final arm pose and didn't want to sculpt hands only to have them miss-aligned with the coat sleeves. In addition, I planned to have the coat modeled to the body, providing support for the arms from the neck down to the base.

The first Bake

As I mentioned above, raw clay is fragile and easily destroyed. I complete larger projects using 'series baking'. This means I sculpt major features, bake, sculpt additional features, bake again... this allows me to work on the details in question without worrying about destroyed meticulous details added previously.

I baked the torso on a bed over paper towels in my deni-convection oven. I use 2 oven thermometers to keep an eye on the temperature and 'stalk' my oven checking every few minutes lest she burn when I'm not looking

Under garments

A sexy elf requires sexy undergarments. I chose red of course to go with the Christmas theme. Since the coat will hide the elf’s back, I only sculpted the visible portions. I sculpted the panties and bra using a dark red glitter mix and smoothing it to the body. I first attempted to trim the underwear in green. this made her look like she was wearing a strawberry (my bf said watermelon) so I changed it for a green and white striped 'candy-cane' trim
One thing I've learned from past sculptures. If I don't like something, I better fix it NOW despite the extra time. Otherwise I'd hate it down the line


The legs proved to be rather tricky. I planned for the elf to wear tall green boots. Sculpting these over the leg wires would be a nightmare. However, cured (baked) clay is tricky to attach to baked clay. After much debate, I decided to sculpt the legs without boots, and hope for the best when attaching to the body. The fact that my elf is seated worked in my favor as I will not have to rely on the legs for support.

Legs are tricky to sculpt. There are so many bumps and grooves that make less sense that a face or torso (to me). After a few hours I was happy enough with my results. Alas I dropped one on my jeans which resulted in more lint than usual (there's no real way to prevent lint getting on the sculpture) I cut and fitted the raw thighs to the body allowing a bit of wire to protrude for attaching to the torso. Alas the legs got slightly darkened (this happens with flesh colored clay). After baking I covered the thighs with more clay to 'fit' the torso, build the buttock region, and help provide a means of adhering to the torso.

The Boots

The high-moccasin boot is my favorite for 'magical' creatures (so you will be seeing those frequently on my creatures. I started by mixing up a magical green color (green and black) and made a bit more than I needed (better to have leftovers than to run-out and not be able to replicate). I measured the sole against her face for size control (my sculptures tend to grow) then added clay as needed building the boot. I built the boots one at a time then cut and smoothed as needed for a 'matching pair'. I twisted red and white 'candy-cane' laces, added them in pieces along with a matching 'bow'. I added some natural 'wrinkles' and folds, and lay aside to 'set'


The thighs proved to be as tricky as I had anticipated with the raw boots making it even more difficult to maneuver lest I destroy the delicate features. Working slowly and carefully I added layers of clay between the thigh and torso and to the buttock region until the legs were secure and the elf looked 'well rounded'


And this is where the 'delay' occurred. After dislocating my finger in volleyball I had to 'abandon' her for about a week and resumed over the weekend.
I started with the hands giving her long and lean 'magical' fingers. despite their tiny size, the hands took nearly as long as the face. I added as much detail as possible using a tiny needle and shaping tool to give her knuckles, fingernails, and finger joints. After sculpting the forearm and upper arm, then set aside to 'set' while I worked on the coat.

Fur Trimmed Coat

I had no 'real' plan for the coat, which makes it more 'fun' in my opinion. I mixed up some really dark red clay adding some pearl and glitter for a magical shimmer. I rolled, cut, smooched and tried again till I was happy with the result. I padded her upper back, shoulder, and lower neck with raw clay shaping it into the grooves to ensure maximum adhesion and support. I draped the coat 'body' over her back letting it hang towards the front. I capped the upper arms with short red 'sleeves' and attached to the shoulder. I added additional clay to mold the shoulders and support the hands.
The hood was a mystery in itself. I knew what I wanted but had NO idea how to shape it. I tried, shaped, cut, and tried again. and again, and again. I finally created the hood using 2 'off-squares' attached at the center, and ripped away at the extras ON the elf to get my exact idea.

The arms were still hanging precariously at her side awaiting the 'fur-trim'. In a future project I will trim the coat and THEN add the arms. Lucky for me, this didn't break. For the 'fur' I mixed White Premo with 'original sculpey'. I added a layer of 'fur' to the coat, hood, and sleeves. I used the softness of the Original Sculpey to my advantage and attacked it with a needle and blunt blade for the 'fuzzy fur' effect.

Now that all the sculpting and detailing was done, I secured the raw arms to the coat (attaching them here prevents them from flopping about. Alas, since the knees were already baked the hands refused to stay ON the knees, which left me with yet another puzzle

The Final Bake

This was one of the scariest hours of my life. dozens of hours of sculpting and more sculpting hung in the balance, to be determined by the results of this final bake. There are so many things that can go wrong in the oven. From scorching, to over-baking, distortions and breakage. I was terrified.
Raw/warm clay is extra week and will happily fall apart in the oven. I set the elf in a small baking pan, then lined, padded and secured every aspect as best I could.

I placed a small box wrapped in baking paper in the small of her back to support the hood and keep her from leaning back. I used a glass votive to hold that in place. I wrapped her right hand (the stubborn one) in a small strip of baking paper to hold it directly on the knee and secured with a paper clip. The other hand was secured to her side, and all was padded with paper towels and baking paper.

I positioned my TWO oven thermometers, did a quick calculation for the time needed, set the timer, and held my breath (and not just because of the baking clay odor). I stalked the oven, checking every 2 minutes to ensure the temperature was just right. About halfway through I placed a wet paper towel over her face (A trick I picked up from Katherine Dewey's Book) to help prevent the delicate facial features from scorching.

An hour later I checked the oven, and whew!! she looked ok. Allowing sculptures to cool slowly and evenly in the oven (by leaving the oven closed) increases their stability down the line. So I held of taking her out till hours later and breathed a serious sigh of relief.


She now sits on my table awaiting 'hair and make-up'. I plan to complete these steps this weekend and unveil the final photos in my Newsletter early next week.

In the meantime, she Needs A Name!! Are you up for the challenge? See details for the contest in my last blog


  1. WOW!!! What a process! She is wonderful! I think she should be named Beatrix, or just Trixie....those names just sound elf-y! :)

  2. uniquecozytreasures - You are really talented and have so much patience. She is glorious. I would name her "Hope".

  3. This is amazing!! I love the boots especially!

  4. Thanks guys, this means alot to me

  5. WOW! This is amazing! thanks for sharing your process. It's really fascinating and you did a wonderful job.

  6. That's a lot of work! I can understand why the baking process can be somewhat scary.

  7. Wow, so that's how they're made. The process is amazing!

  8. I surely hope you are Promoting your artistic talent. The work you go through to make a amazing figure, decorate it, put finishing touches to it.Your talent is one to be spread around.

  9. Wow! This is really amazing!