Smooth operator #greatbustard #plaster #sculpture

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Getting back In the workshop after a week meant that my sculpture has had long enough to really harden and gives me a chance to examine what my next step to finishing it might be.

Looking over the model, the modroc has done a fair job, but, there are still fibres and ridges present.

I have some options,

1, just to modroc again, this could of course leave me with exactly the same finish as I currently have, fibres and ridges due to the nature of the application…

2, modroc another layer and whilst still damp apply a thin skim of fine casting plaster, this could be quite messy and complex and the speed with which modroc goes off may not give me enough time to make a batch of fine plaster and apply it to good finish, plus if there are any fibres and it’s wet, they may well come up through the skim and give me problems when trying to sand as they will pull out to the modroc leaving a small hole in the model….

3, just use the fine casting plaster to do a skim over what I have, this may be the best option as long as it is able to adhere to the hardened modroc layer underneath.

I think the best result will be had from going with option 3, and fully wetting the area to which I will then skim on.

Jim shows me a test piece that he has experimented with, in order to look at the adhesion of fine plaster directly onto a polystyrene former, without using scrim underneath (which was my alternative method). It has worked quite well, but he shows me what happens when the polystyrene flexes and parts of the plaster pop off and cracks. So moving my sculpture is going to be the trickiest part, this is where any stress on the plaster will pull at the tension and cause cracks or fissures to appear.

So I dive in and get the right wing fully wet with warm water and quickly mix up some fine plaster, just to a fairly thin consistency and start to apply…

As I put it on I am shocked by how quickly it starts to dry, it really doesn’t give me as much time as I’d like, I’m guessing it must be the thinness of the plaster which is making it harden off before it normally would. But I grab a bowl of water to try and smooth as much as I can before it starts to harm the finish. I have a couple of places where it pulls up the skim I’ve just put on, let’s hope it holds on enough to get through the show.


Although this technique is getting the finish closer to what I had envisaged I’m glad that I didn’t start with scrim and plaster, I think I would have put on too much plaster and the scrim would still have left the fibre problem, which I had on the base…

I turn the sculpture onto its side so I can more easily cover the whole right wing and almost decide to leave that to dry before doing anymore, but, this would take a ridiculous amount of wasted time in between sessions, so I turn the Bustard onto it’s stomach and start to cover the other side.


I get the left side and tail done before lunch and leave the back and head until the afternoon.


Because of the medium I am working so quickly I get the back, head and neck done in just two hours. The head shows a big improvement in quality of surface, from lumpy to smooth and I’m now looking forward to sanding this all over.



This should be the final surface, bar painting, and I will experiment with paint on some spare plaster pieces to see if a satin, gloss or natural sanded plaster will be the best hold for projecting onto.



Trying to make best use of the time left in the workshop I still need to sort out the gap that appears when the body is placed onto the base, so using up some of the modroc I increase the height on the ‘shorts’ of the bird.



When the model is dry I need to remark the metal bars on the body so it sits nicely, and check whether it can still manage the weight of the sculpture with all of the added plaster!

I am surprised by how little plaster I have had to add to smooth over the whole surface, each time I mixed up a new batch I always had to throw some away, even though I was only making up a small amount… Of course I ran out on the head, but think I just got away with that…

Next session will be sanding and hopefully testing projection thereafter.


Flying Bustard lines

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The sculpture is coming along, but I need to get back to my animation, and to make it work I try and estimate how many frames I will need to make it work.

I take the illustrated bustard drawings I made before.

illustrated bustardThis consists of 6 frames, which almost works, but I decide to add in 2 more frames and then test that key frame for timing.
The _llustrated_bustard-03


2 more frames added and I have a little play with colour… with a view in mind that this will be my submitted image that the College can use for it’s publicity posters…

The _llustrated_bustard_03-03


Then I go back to the black outlines and put them through flash to see how the total timing is working for the flight cycle.

This looks good, about the right pause and pace, the Bustard does not fly with fast beating wings, it tries to conserve as much energy as possible, so this feels right, languid, but powerful.

I will need to add more frames in between these 8 for the drawn animation, which I may well do in a linear fashion first, but it will literally be a frame directly in the middle of these.


All together now

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Another short session in the plaster room gives me just enough time to beef up the Bustards legs… They’ve been looking a bit skinny at the top, so I have decided that by using some shaped polystyrene I can fatten them to give a better shape with a hint of muscle, as you generally see at the top of a birds leg…




This now resembles what I have come to call the ‘shorts’ as on the live bird these are white, just like the underside of the Bustard itself.

With the two parts sat on the bench in front of me, I couldn’t resist putting them together to see how the legs worked and whether the plaster underside had affected how the sculpture fitted in one piece.


It’s really tricky to put together on the floor as I can’t see the marking for the holes, but it sits quite steadily and there’s no weight imbalance (at the moment) the legs and the body work well as a single piece.

It does look impressive, but the plaster underbelly is preventing the metal struts from sitting ‘into’ the sculpture as it did when it was just polystyrene, so there is a gap between the legs and the body which will have to fixed.

I need to remark the strut holes whilst the model is on a raised dais to ensure a good fit for the two sections.

Smoothing dilemma – a real ‘head’ache

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Being able to leave the sculpture over a couple of days to really dry off is helpful, but the problems I face getting a reasonably smooth surface are quite apparent now it’s dried.





wpid-dsc_0247.jpgThe head and neck area are the worst affected, and the photos of the face above are after I have spent a whole morning using sandpaper on the lumpiest bits, but this in turn brings out the fluff of the bandage, a real downside to the modroc sculpting method. If you don’t get it smooth on application, then sanding it reveals the material. Rather than if I had applied traditional plaster I would have been able to sand it as much as I liked (well down to the polystyrene former). But of course that would have made the model an awful lot heavier and the thicker skin would have impacted on my original carving.

My next step will be to apply another layer of modroc, but at the same time a skim of plaster, trying to work a smooth surface as I go, understanding a little more of how the modroc works. I will need to apply the regular plaster skim at the same time, so that it adheres to the still damp modroc surface.

I need to make sure I don’t apply too much plaster as this will totally cancel out the benefits and reasons that I used the modroc in the first place…


Getting plastered all over #greatbustard


After finishing the tail in plaster it was time to get on with the largest area, and what I hoped would be the easier section, the large flat sides of the Bustard.

Using slightly larger pieces of the modroc bandage I make my way across one of the sides, working quickly to try and get the smoothest result…

I turn the Bustard sculpture gently onto it’s side so that I can see both the bottom and the top, to try not to leave any nasty bits of unsmoothed bandage where I can’t quite reach. It is pretty tricky as the benches are high, and the Bustard is big, even on it’s side and after taking all morning to cover it I have left a couple of dodgy edges where you can clearly see the bandage.



The ridges of the modroc itself are also still showing through and the occasional tiny ball of polystyrene is still managing to wreck any chances I have of a smooth finish. (images are hard to take in the plaster room because of the fluorescent lighting, so apologies for the stripy photos!)

One extra morning used up…

The next morning I get, it’s onto the other side, I try and randomise the layering of the modroc as much as is possible, but I’m still not able to smooth it as much as I’d hoped and the little pieces of modroc string falling off coupled with polystyrene bits in the mix are driving me crazy!

wpid-dsc_0230.jpgBut I get the other side done and the underneath covered.






Time is up, but my Bustard sculpture is fully plastered!

It’s looking really nice coated in plaster, but I will be unable to present it in this state, so I will need to continue longer than I had hoped, on trying to get a more polished finish.


Tail End #greatbustard #sculpture

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I know I only have a half day in the workshop to day so decide to focus on getting the tail covered and as smooth as possible, unlike the head which is disappointing.

After the success of the back of the bird yesterday I work harder and with more water into the dipped area which would be the space between the feathers on a real bustard but is more like a gentle dip on my sculpture.

It takes such a long time, but the results do come and I work a few strips from the centre to the outside with the forethought that when I move onto the outer tail feathers I will bring the strips over the top and on top of these.

It takes a lot of modroc just to do the inner dip and I have to buy another kilogram for me to continue onto the sides.


I work methodically along the tail, doing two sections at a time and cutting the modroc to the right size, this works really well and I get a lovely smooth finish on the feather sections, if only I could have achieved this over the head!


Eventually the tail is completely covered and looking good.




I cannot resist putting the body onto the legs and having an overall visual check.


It’s looking better and better all the time, it still seems to balance well and of course will dry and lose a little more weight, although the wings are yet to be plastered.
As the workshop shuts at 12.30 on a Friday I need to jiggle work to get myself two more half days, hoping to finish the sides in half a day each.

At this point I decide it will be best if the sculpture stays in two pieces until the week before the show, I might even see if I can manufacture it in two parts that perfectly fit together so that it can be easily transported after my show as well.


Smoothing and getting the Bustard plastered #greatbustard

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Day 4 begins with the base, I start by using a light scrim and plaster dip to lay over the chicken mesh, I crisscross the weave to make a stronger based after 4 layers I’m ready to add smooth plaster over the surface.


It’s tricky with the scrim fibres sticking out and the chicken wire being very angular, but after a first light layers the second layer gets it covered.

Whilst doing the plaster base I need to be aware of which way the Bustard is facing, making sure there is enough space for his 14cm long toes to fit on and I haven’t accidentally made a hillock in the way!


The weight of the base has increased dramatically… I’m hoping I’ve not been too free handed with the plaster and made it impossibly heavy.
It looks good though, a bit like a meringue, but a good solid base and having the extra weight means it will be more stable.

I start on the legs with ‘modroc’ which is a plaster infused fine bandage.


I’m hoping that by using small strips I can utilise the natural texture which will mirror a birds legs, the ridged effect by wrapping and the leathery effect with the weave of the bandage.


I try and cut as many strips as I think I will need to cover the first leg – you do not want to be cutting the mid roc with wet hands, as any small drips will trigger the plaster to set – and start the process of dipping, laying onto the leg steels and smoothing as I go.

It needs to be worked almost continuously until nearly fully set, it’s awkward trying to go around such a thin diameter, but I slowly move up the leg getting the finish and thickness as I go.
Whilst still wet if you add more water and smooth again you can get a good even finish, it’s amazing how much plaster will come out of the bandage.

I add more width to the top of the legs, but realise quite quickly that it would be best to make a polystyrene former for the top of the legs, as modroc is not a cheap material. I form the knees and then turn to adding the feet on.wpid-dsc_0179.jpg
I place the metal toes in situ, they look incredibly long and I go back to my reference grid to double check, but yes they are that long, it’s only as long as the beak and overall will probably balance out.


I decide to partially cover them before attaching at the ‘ankle’ point and try and make a toe shape, in and out and wider at the nail point.


Adding the toes requires an extra pair of hands which I don’t have so use the mod roc to almost tie the toes on, actually that works quite well and I stuff the knot into the gap to bulk it out.
Once onto the leg they sit very well together and no longer outsized, but I need to make the toes more realistic.


I use the modroc to hang from halfway down the toe, knowing that once dry it will be set hard and this makes the look of tendons on the toes.


That is much better.

I decide to move onto the polystyrene Bustard, starting with the head, and continue with the modroc, unfortunately I now encounter a real problem, the polystyrene keeps falling off and creating lumps on top of and underneath the beautiful plaster, this is so annoying, plus the modroc keeps shedding fibres so getting this smooth is turning into a frustrating exercise. The head of the bustard is lumpy bumpy and not working as it should…


Jim suggests trying to put a fins skim of ordinarily plaster over the surface to try and smooth it out, but I’m very aware of adding too much weight to a delicate area of the sculpture, it would also make it too front heavy for the legs and base, so I tentatively skim it, but am not sure why this has gone quite wrong, I’m hoping I will be able to sand this area back a little as well, once fully dry. I manage to get the neck smooth, but the head is almost pockmarked… Very dissapointing…

I move onto the back and realise that I have just not been working the modroc hard enough and maybe that’s why the finish is not as expected. I know the back is a wider flatter space, but I manage the media so much better this gets the results I was looking for from the neck.


This is my inexperience working with this particular medium, but I must keep in mind that the sculpture is not my Master piece, it’s the experience I’m hoping to give with the Augmented Reality, projection, animation and the trigger to bring interactivity in a non-destructive way.

This birds got legs aka the Bustard stands again…

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Day 3 in the workshop carving my bustard sculpture as I arrive in the morning, the first thing to check is how well the pieces have stuck together… Unfortunately it looks like the glue really hasn’t had time to set overnight, on the main body and where the head and tail attach…I can’t afford to lose anytime at all just sitting around waiting for the glue to go off, so I strap up the body with a belt and decide not to touch the head or tail for as long as possible.


I use the big saw sparingly as it vibrates the whole structure, and instead use my trusty Japanese rasp, which is a beautifully constructed thing…


I work steadily through the sides to bring them in a little as my Bustard was looking too round past the widest point.


I quite like the rough marks left by the edge of the rasp, almost imitating feather edges.

I start to work on the head, gingerly and then I get a big shock as the head join comes apart and the head almost flips back on itself… this is not what I need to happen at this point, I can’t make glue dry quicker!

Making sure I am even more gentle and keep even pressure on the top of the head, I carry on, dreading that happening again.


I manage to get a good Great Bustard head shape carved, they have quite angular features and no more scary flip top heads, but it’s the glue, it’s still not dried!


After lunch I move onto the tail, I know full well this is still a wet join as the two parts were sliding a bit and I had to turn it back round as the middle was not matching up with the centre piece on the tail, but gently and slowly work my way round the outside.

wpid-dsc_0163.jpgit’s looking quite good, I’ve trimmed the sides, shaped the head, managed to smooth the tail and get the shape right, but I’d like to cut into the tailpiece, rather than have it solid. I decide to cocktail stick the two parts together in the hope it might help and start to cut into the very centre of the tail.

In a real birds tail like this it would only be a couple of feathers thick, obviously working with this polystyrene I cannot make it that thin, it will just tear or break, so I try to mimic the outer shape at least to give a hint of the real tail.


And that’s about it for carving.

I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have now found a reason to have big shoulders…carving! The best work out for your upper arms you’ll ever have, 3 days solid of sawing, cutting, pressing and rasping.

But no time to stop and admire my handiwork, I need to get the steel armature done so I can start scrimming the shape with plaster tomorrow.


Using a giant set of bolt croppers I cut my steel to length, for both legs, the 3 toes and the base platform to affix it too.



Jim welds the base for me and we tack the legs on and then put the sculpture on top of the steel for the first time, it looks great, it actually transforms it!


I am really pleased with how it looks, I’m just completely knackered! With me in the picture you can see for the first time, just how big the sculpture is when standing. It measures at just over the 105cm mark, but the feet and the base probably take up that extra 5cm, so it’s all good…

So I can get going straight away on the plaster work, I need to get a mesh onto the base, so the plaster has something to sit on, and my Bustard has something to stand on.


Chicken wire does a grand job, even though I get scratched to heck and bleed over my metalwork,  we add on the cradle at the top and another strut on each leg in anticipation of the extra weight the plaster will bring and I manage to get it all attached in time… But then I remember we haven’t put the toes for the feet on…


I know what the first job tomorrow is going to be!



Bustard Making – a day of 3 halves

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The pieces of the Bustard that I glued yesterday have had varying results… The larger body pieces are still mostly wet and don’t seem too rigid, ie, the glue has not set on such a large set of layers.. However the head pieces are pretty solid, I guess it’s just the size of the body section that has prevented it from drying fully.

I leave them in the hope that a couple more hours will help and set about outlining the shape for the tail section. I need 6 layers to achieve the maximum width of 30cm.


I wasn’t sure how accurate I was going to be with a bread knife to carefully sculpt my wing tip shapes, but after the first one, it was clear I wouldn’t need the hot wire, the knife was doing a grand job, as long as I came at the curved bit from both angles it exceeded my expectation.


I quickly glue them together with a bit cocktail stick trickery to pin them in place, then turn to the biggest shape to sculpt.



I thought it would be best to start on the body, as it’s so big I’m hoping I can’t make too many big mistakes, having never tried to carve polystyrene before, but I couldn’t resist just popping the pieces in situ to see how it was turning out.



Massive is what struck me!

Jim gave me another two tools to add to my arsenal of sculpting weapons, a whacking great wood saw and a beautiful Japanese rasp – apparently it’s the best tool in the workshop – to be taken care of!


I have not got an aerial view of the Great Bustard to work my width measurements on, all I have is any of Dave Kjaer’s photos and a working knowledge of traditional birdshapes and mechanics.


I sketch out where the front and back measurements take me, and try and put together a reasonable outline, a quite rotund but powerful set of shoulders, gently sweeping arc down to the wingtips, which almost overlap at the rear end.


I use the wood saw to do the big blocks of cutting, but turn to the rasp to smooth and gently shape.


It is a lovely tool to use, with both a rough and smooth side, it’s a work of art in it’s own right, it seems to be made up of hacksaw blades that gently wide in and out to make a close set diamond grid that works beautifully to sculpt my Bustard…


It also covers me, the bench and the floor with lots of polystyrene snow, which also seems to stick to my hands and arms!

All too soon lunch comes and the workshop shuts for an hour – don’t they realise how precious any time an MA student has in a workshop – and I have to down tools and sit about until it re-opens…

It takes such a long time to carve I start to doubt I’m going to get onto the plaster at all this week, let alone the welding for the legs… I think Jim realised I wasn’t going to have time and he has offered to do the legs for me, a bit of a shame when I was looking forward to having a go, but I know what he means when he says, “it would be quicker for me to do it than for me to teach you…”

After lunch I plough on, finishing the initial carve of the body, and manage to get onto carving the head too, this looks particularly nice when ‘finished’. All of these first carves are only to minimise how much I will need to finish when the model is together as it’s going to be slightly unwieldy and I don’t want bits to break off.


When nearly finished on the body one of the sections fully came away from the rest of the layers, proving how unstuck the whole thing was… a little worrying when it was left overnight, but all the way through the carve I have encountered wet glue in places.

Time is running out again and I need to get the tail and head stuck to the body to try and give another overnight for the glue to set, fingers crossed all round I think…


I quickly mark up the tail and roughly using the saw hack off the larger portions, as we glue it to the body I am really concerned about what is going to happen tomorrow, when I get into it I don’t want to be worrying that it’s going to slip apart!

Jim can completely pull the layers apart on the body, so adds some more glue and resticks it whilst we have the chance. He also tells me that I shouldn’t be a worrywart, but I can’t help it, this is going to be part of my show!

Putting it together I am pleased with the shape, it still looks absolutely massive, but I’ve tried my hardest to use any measurements I can get my hands on, and there we have it!



Making my very own Great Bustard #greatbustard

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Today started my week devoted to the sculpture making part of my Masters Installation. I’ve been working on some measurements and have the finished workup ready to go. I have already been donated 5 sheets of polystyrene from a BA student who had finished all of his work and no longer needed the extra sheets he’d bought, but when Jim and I measured up, it struck me that the Bustard was looking absolutely massive and I had nowhere near enough poly to make the barrel chest of the bird. So I dashed off to B&Q to buy another 4 sheets, which I then dropped back at College, before going back home and revisiting my original measurements. Good job I did as I had the Bustard 1.2metres at it’s tallest when it’s only 105cm! The same information also had the body length at 115cm, but this was way too long. So with my new designs I returned into college for an afternoon of polystyrene sawing! BustardScupt_measurements-04First I marked out the biggest shape, that being the oval of the body which would be the biggest section, I would need to add on the head and the tail to fit in the pieces of poly I was working on…


In hindsight, maybe I should have put as much as possible onto the sheet, ie, moved the shape to the bottom to have more neck and tail and just finish with small top sections, but it’s cut now…


This is the first one cut, not too bad, the bread knife gives quite a good edge, makes it easy to follow the outline although it’s always going to be a bit messy with polystyrene!

So I just need to make 8 of those…

Cutting the polystyrene is quite hard work for my little arm and at one point I wasn’t quite sure I’d be able to get through 8 sheets, let alone all the other bits as well… It does take a considerable amount of time to cut the first 4, but then I find a little work groove and by the end I’m finishing them in 10 minutes a sheet.

So I have my 8 body sections and from the left over pieces of sheet I need to make best use of size to fit the tail and the head within the remaining poly.

A little bit of maths later and I’m marking out the head outline.


I only need 4 sheets of this as the head/neck isn’t as wide as the body (about half – 20cm max)

I’m racing against time to get these 4 cut out as I need to get them glued before they close the workshop…


Fortunately Jim helps me sandwich all the layers together and glues them with some strong wood glue and a few cocktail sticks for extra holding whilst they set.


8 bodies, 4 heads, done.


Jim checks out the right kind of rasp on a side section, so that I can immediately start when I get in tomorrow… But first I’ll need to cut 6 tail sections and get them gluing and then I can start sculpting.


It really is going to be massive, the sculpture will stand just over a metre tall and is nearly a metre in length at it’s widest point (crop to tail), I can’t wait to get the sections together, this will (hopefully) be impressive… and it gives me a nice big surface to project onto 🙂


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