Monday, January 2, 2012

Bodewell the Yorkie - Part 1

To paint or not to paint, that is the question I’ve been toying with ever since I wanted to sculpt animals.
The argument is as follows: Painting to me seems less ‘authentic’. As a sculptor, I want my work to start and end with clay. However, achieving realistic details and intricate fur patterns requires the help of a paintbrush. Even my standard sculptures use paint for eyes, lips, nails, and overall details.
So after sculpting Sandy sans paint, I decided to try and mimic Bodewell’s complex fur with the help of acrylics.


This adorable Yorkie, Bodewell, is my best canine friend after Trooper an adorable Schnoodle. I have been honored to share many a holiday/weekend with this little guy, and created this sculpture as a holiday gift for his mommy. Bodewell has an adorable waddle, jumps REALLY high, and can bark like an old lady.

Choosing Clay Colors

Since my ultimate plan was to pain the sculpture, clay color wasn’t as important for Bodewell. My planned method of painting would add an overall painted layer while allowing the underlying colors to peak through. So I chose to use a light flesh color for Bodewell’s blond hair, and a grey for his darker hair. Since Bodewell’s face would include heavy detailing I chose to work with Premo and Living doll sculpey, 2 brands of ‘tougher’ clay ideal capturing fine detail. I mixed in generous amounts of very soft original sculpey for the heavily textured areas such as his back, legs, and tail. Original sculpey is a lot easier to imprint (read: attack with my needle tools)
After selecting a few of the dozen photos (half showing him running away) a quick and crude sketch, I was ready to begin sculpting

The Head

As with my humanoid sculptures, I chose to start with his head. I created a simple armature using a heavy gauge wire for his ‘skeleton’ and covered the top portion with a ball of foil for his ‘skull’. This not only provided a solid surface to work on, but it would ensure a thorough bake down the line. (unbaked insides cause sculptures to crumble after a few years)

I covered the skull with clay, added the simple facial features like the muzzle and eyebrows, and marked the rest of the face for detailing. I prepared my pre-baked eyes using my ‘new’ eyeball trick

In the past I baked two spheres for the eyes, and then tried desperately to force them into the foil skull resulting in distorted facial features. My next ‘experiment’ involved baking half-circle eyeballs, but those always looked ‘squished’. My newest trick involves baking a single well-formed circle. When the eyeball is still hot I used my super-slicer to cut it down the middle. This gives me a perfect sphere with a flat back that easily settles onto the clay with no facial distortions.
While the actual nose would have to wait for later lest it get distorted, I added a ‘placeholder’ nose to stop the nose-less Bodewell glaring at me (read: so I can have an idea of how the face would look)

The Body

Bodewell’s body, like his face, would be sculpted over a thick foil armature. I shaped a large piece of foil using my sketch as a guide. I wrapped the foil in a thin layer of ‘tough’ clay to ‘save’ the shape by trapping the foil to prevent distortion. I built up the body adding flattened ‘pancakes’ where needed.
The pancake method involves adding a flattened ball of clay then blending it into the bigger structure. This is useful for adding bulk to fatty areas like the belly, sides and back. Once satisfied with the overall shape I added a layer of my soft-mix clay and added extra padding to the tummy and back.

Once satisfied with the overall shape I added a layer of my soft-mix clay and added extra padding to the tummy and back. After pinching the bottom for a seated posture I pierced the foil with a long needle. This allowed me to slide the partially sculpted head into the body with distortion (another past nightmare)

Connecting the Head

This part gave me a lot of trouble. The wire armature helped ensure the head ‘stayed’ (good boy) in place, but it kept turning to look at me. I added a few pancakes starting from the back of the head connecting to the back, and another starting under the muzzle connecting to the belly. This secured the head in place and prevented further rotation while creating the building blocks for the neck and shoulders.


Bodewell has very unique ears. They point to the top of his head, but tend to stick out to the side. I tried to mimic the overall idea by sculpting 2 triangles and adding the necessary texture. Because the ears are so thin and fragile, adding texture later would be a disaster. While some of the ‘fur’ did get distorted while attaching, most of the texture remained, whew!! I added a bulky layer of soft clay behind the ears for the large tufts of hair sticking out of his head.

Nose and Face

With the face partially sculpted and attached to the body, it was now safe to add the more fragile details, including a real black nose. This proved to be another challenge. I’ve avoided that nose (and wet tongue) so often, perhaps I should have taken the time to examine the real thing more closely. Bodewell had a highly texture face, to help prepare for this I added his ‘hair groups’ in pieces as a guide for texturing later. Final additions included a lower lip, lower muzzle, and soft clay for the beard. Then came the real fun. I went to town on his face with my needle tools. I did all the fine texturing around the muzzle and between the eyes using a very thin sewing needle. Each ‘hair’ carefully and meticulously ‘carved’ to follownhis natural hair pattern. Larger texturing was done with a tapestry needle to represent the hair that grows thicker and longer. This includes the side of his face and back of his head


At this point I had a somewhat realistic face looking back at me. I forgot my camera in the excitement to see the rest of him come alive.
The ‘fun’ thing about a fur-ball type dog, is that ‘shape’ is lost under the hair making the legs relatively easy to create. Since Bodewell is seated, his hind legs do not require support since the body core is nothing but support. His hind legs were sculpted as round disks smoothed towards the lower back, but sticking out widely to show his knees and inner thighs. The actual legs were created as 2 simple logs. Since Bodewell is so furry, his legs wait to come alive with texturing.
The front legs of a seated dog play a major role in structural support. Weak legs would cause the sculpture to sag forward in the oven, and eventually crack and break. The leg armature was created using the same thick gauge wire as in the head. I curved the bottom for a firmer stance (read: not to scratch my glass work space) and secured the wire deep into the foil body core.

I added a thick layer of very soft clay for the legs, bulked the joint and toe area, and curved the legs outward for his signature waddle look. (I wish I had video to show you what I mean, his waddle is adorable) With the legs in position, I went to town again with my needle tools.
The tail (not shown) was created from a soft blob of clay, shaped and textured the same way.

Whew! With the actual dog sculpture complete I set him aside to ‘set’. Freshly sculpted clay is warm and soft, thus easily distorted/squished. Allowing him to ‘cool’ overnight gives me the opportunity to assess his features with fresh eyes and fix anything that I missed

Continues to Part 2

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  1. WOW! Great job on the dog! I can't wait to see his finished product.

  2. OMGoodness, I'm speechless! Watching this little come to life is so cool! You do amazing work!

  3. amazing Leah! you are an artist!

  4. Wow... this is so neat... love seeing the stages of development!