Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Wrecking Crew: Part 2

So with the Wrecking Crew mini busts shipping from Bowen Designs, I figured it would be a great day to revisit and round out the previous Wrecking Crew entry where I went on about Piledriver and Bulldozer. This blog has been a long time coming, but as time slipped away from me there for awhile, I decided I would just get back to this when the pieces were released. Well here I am bitches!

While I think visually Bulldozer is the coolest member of the the Crew for a sculptor to get his hands on, certainly Thunderball and Wrecker are probably the most exciting of the foursome for fans of the Crew.

These two pieces presented their own unique challenges. With the many sculpts I have worked on, I've never had the chance to sculpt an African American face, even if it is based on a comic book. Thunderball presented that opportunity and I think I did his portrait the fastest out of all of these guys. There's something to be said for sculpting something you haven't before. If you are excited about it, the inspiration tends to flow.

On the other hand the Wrecker was a bit of a problem child for me. I say this not because he posed difficulty in actually sculpting his portrait, but more in the expectations that were had with the sculpt. These characters have been around forever, but the Wrecker is the most popular and everyone has their own vision of how he should look. Some think he should look exactly like Kirby drew him. Some feel he should be more inspired by Byrne or Buscema. Neither of these options completely fit with whatever the hell it is, that is my style. I tried to not let all of that get to me though and instead opted to just make him look mean and nasty, beefy and cool. Everyone can agree the Wrecker is at least those things. The rest is up to me to just make a great looking piece.

Thunderball is the brains of the outfit. He has tried on several occasions to screw everyone over in the Crew and take all of the power and "glory" for himself. I wanted to give him a different look than the other sculpts, even if it was a bit more subtle. He does not have an open mouth, a sneer, a growl, or the need to be ferocious. He knows he's gonna beat your ass, he doesn't need to talk about it, even if he at times chooses to. Also, Thunderball has a slightly different musculature in my mind than the others. He's huge of course as they all are, but he's not thuggish like the Wrecker. He's not as big as Dozer and he's not as shredded as Piledriver. This was my distinction... He has enormous muscles, he's just a bit smoother and not as ripped. I don't think anyone else on the planet but me will think of things like this, or even care, but hey, whatever works for me as an artist right?

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I had a lot of fun on Thunderball. Like I said before, it was something new and that can always get your creative juices flowing if you embrace it. Randy sent some chain for his wrecking ball and I had the ball itself "in stock" as I had some Styrofoam balls left over from my Hawkman sculpt. If you spray a little primer on... emphasis on LITTLE... it will eat away at the foam just enough to appear like scuffed up iron. I love it when a plan comes together.

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The Wrecker... the biggest douche bag on the planet... how fun is the idea of sculpting someone that has absolutely zero in the redeeming qualities column? I even sculpted his head twice on my own, even though Rand liked the first one because I didn't feel the first was douchelicious enough. The Wrecker is not a ripped guy. At least in his earlier appearances he wasn't. He's this giant and thick guy, like a 1940's dock worker. He's also covered in something that I can only compare to a mechanics jumpsuit with a welding flap and a ski mask. These make for a visually exciting piece that stands out due to him being the only one with folds and wrinkles in his costume. The challenge was to add these elements without making him seem like less of a bad ass.

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I actually borrowed a mechanic outfit from my brother and had Marie shoot pictures of me in it, in the Wrecker's pose. These pictures will never ever surface mind you, but having the proper reference material is always a good thing. Not only that but I actually have access to a 4 foot crowbar that came in pretty handy as well.

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Overall I had a blast working on the Wrecker. I took steps backward just as much as I took steps forward because I was looking to impress with him the most. I can only hope that I delivered on that once these guys start hitting collector's shelves. It seems many folks only want the Wrecker and could care less about the other three. Of course a sculptor never goes into a project hoping that people could care less about their work, so I gave it my all on all four of these guys. Again, I truly hope that it shows and that collector's love them as much as I loved sculpting them.

How could you not love irredeemable bastards like these guys?

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As always and until next time, thanks for lookin'

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rage of the Red Armature

The other day I was looking down at my hands and more specifically my fingers. I made the realization in my brain that my hands felt pretty good, and that it had been awhile since I have nicked, sliced open, or scraped any skin off my digits. Everything is nice and healed... must be time to tie a new armature and cut the sh*t out of my fingers and hands all over again.

... and here we are today.

I am getting ready to begin building up a new piece for a most excellent friend of mine. The piece I will be working on is a character from the Green Lantern comic book series and more specifically, a character from the red part of the emotional spectrum. Red in this version of the visual spectrum signifies the emotion of rage...

It's time to test the limits on how angry I can make clay look and I am excited beyond belief. This is one of those pieces that I can cut loose on. There are no rules to a character that is this pissed off, except that he has to look like he is pissed off.

I think I can handle that.

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I thought it might be fun to blog about the process here a little bit.

Before the clay, before the wax, before anything else, you have to have an armature. I thought it might be fun to blog periodically on this piece as it progresses from bent 10 gauge galvanized wire, with smaller floral wire wrapped around it, into something that resembles a pissed off Red Lantern.

This character is a pretty big fella, but not the biggest fella there is. He's somewhere between the monstrous Arkillo sculpt I did and the more "average" human sized Kyle Rayner piece I also sculpted.With that said, I know that the piece will be around 6.25 inches tall from waist to cranium, and so my first step is to bend some wire to those specs.

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After I have bent the wire into shape, I mark certain points on the wire that can later serve as landmarks to make sure that certain body parts are equal length on both sides. You don't want 1 forearm to be half an inch longer than the other right? These "tick" marks I leave are only the beginning, but for a good portion of the build up, they keep me in check until the time comes to use calipers instead.

After I have bent the heavy wire into the desired "M" shape, I then use smaller, finer, easier to bend wire to wrap the thicker wire with. I try to spiral down the wire and when I have hit certain "tick" marks like the waist or the wrist, I wrap it a couple times and spiral back up whence I came. This creates nice and tight little "x's" to which the clay will stick to the armature as it gets lumped on. I always leave myself room (extra wire) at the spine, and the hands. It's very easy to go in after you have your figure built up and clip the wire shorter. The alternative is having something too short and needing to start over 20 hours in.

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The next step in the process will be to put some apoxie putty around certain parts of the wires to kind of bulk up and at the same time strengthen and solidify the armature. Using apoxie this way creates the ribcage area as well as locks in the additional wire I tie in for the neck to a point where the armature is bulletproof. Another thing I always make sure to do with a bigger piece like this is, when I build my apoxie rib cage, is to shove a piece of square brass tubing in the back. When the apoxie cures, you now have a means of further anchoring the piece and having it be stable while you sculpt. More on that bit with the next round of work in progress shots which I will post soon.

For now however, I have a little mini update on the 1/5 Thor piece I am working on. I have been spending a little bit of time progressing this piece after it has been sitting on the shelf since July. I have been working on his legs this week and have affectionately dubbed it, the "quad of thunder" sculpt.

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More to come, and as always, thanks for lookin',


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sculpting with Wax: I love you, I hate you

I have used hard tooling wax in my sculpture for years now. Somewhere along the way I was able to strike a balance in using it though. Recently I have decided that I am in a "I hate you" phase with it.

Why do I hate wax you ask?

It's an evil temptress with pouty lips blowing you kisses with one hand, and in the other hand holding a prison shank, waiting to stick a sculptor where it hurts the most... His ticking clock.

I've had this discussion quite a bit lately with a sculpting pal of mine Tony Cipriano. Why is it that somewhere along the line, I decided to use wax to sculpt? I haven't attempted to sculpt a head or hand with clay in ages, but why is that? What made me think that I couldn't achieve what I wanted in a medium that is faster and easier to alter? Those damn pouty lips I tell you... they made me do it.

When I started learning wax and how to sculpt with wax, I was a relative sculpting noob. I had no skill, I had no touch with clay. I saw the wax work that these top tier sculptors were doing and listened to them go on about the control they had with it. Much like a damn informercial playing non-stop at 3AM Sunday morning, I was sucked in to that temptress blowing kisses. What I wasn't clearly paying attention to was all of the other top tier sculptors that were still using clay to do pretty amazing pieces in their own right... Enter that shank waiting to stick me under my ribs.

In truth I have learned wax and how to manage it somewhat efficiently. I have molds laying around of heads and hands in all of these different scales and for a time it was easy enough to pour a "blank" and just spend a bunch of time modifying the blank into the new piece.

There's some hilarity to that statement though. I said "easy enough" and "spend a bunch of time modifying" in the same breath.

Why would I spend all that time dripping and scraping and changing a portrait from Thor to Surtur? That makes little to no sense, but at the time it sure beat building one from scratch in wax right? Time is money isn't it? There I go again... how is this method a time saver again? Lots of guys work this way, it's not a new concept, it's just part of the process... The incredible detail and clean surface you get at the end make all of the dripping and scraping worth it.

Never again will I pour a blank and modify it. If a project is worth that much work and effort, why not focus that on building up the head in clay first and then if needed finishing in wax? It's a much faster method, you can still get amazing detail and polish, but aren't frantically scraping and dripping to somehow sculpt the unique features that the "blank" doesn't have? Why not grab some mushy Super Sculpey and rough out the head and features with clay? Need to add a helmet? Bake the rough, add more material and bake again?

What you are left with is something that looks a lot more like the particular character you are working on, something that you can mold and cast in tooling wax, and ultimately add all of the finishing touches that wax is known for. Art directors won't know or care how you got there, only how good it looks and how many they can sell.

So that brings us to the "I love you part" of wax sculpting.

I still use it, I still love what I can do with it, I still love the look and the feel of it. I've gotten pretty good at delivering the quality I want to be with it. I am merely dropping the tedious effort it takes to get a piece looking like there is life in it. I am ditching the act of annihilating one sculpt to create another. Thor is NOT Surtur so the work it takes to get there is stressful and time consuming, so why not trust in my ability to rough one in instead of using the "Hot" material that has been brought in to save all of sculpture? Wax will be that much more powerful when you use it to refine and detail rather than create. If it's worth using, it is worth making it easier on yourself when you get there.

I understand now what Tony C, has been telling me for years. Feel free to give the temptress with the pouty lips a smooch, just make sure you see the prison shank coming.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Return of the Dawg Blog

I honestly don't know where the hell to begin, so I'll just dive right in and tell y'all some of the pieces I've been working on since the last time I've barfed my thoughts out in to cyberspace for all to see.

It's been a busy 2010. It had not been full of as much output as I would have liked, but I have been pushing clay, dripping wax, and all of the usual goodness that comes with sculpting characters from the funny books. Since I last blogged there have some cool projects I have worked on that I haven't been able to share. These projects are all wrapped now and in truth one is going out to Oregon today to that Randy Bowen guy!

I've completed two pieces for Randy this year and as always, it's been a pleasure working for and with him. The first of these pieces was a little outside of what most people are used to seeing from me. The character is Avalanche and he is a classic X-Men villain from way back. Normally I tend to gravitate to projects that have expressive faces and a lot of anatomical work, but Avalanche has a mask that only shows his mouth, and armor that covers 3/4 of any anatomy that was sculpted. I rather enjoyed the challenge of making this character look bad ass without all of the usual weapons I use to make a character look bad ass. To do this, I had to make what little face that was exposed full of pissed off attitude. Not only that, but the body language and the hands became super important as well, given that his torso wouldn't really show any tension from his muscles. Overall I am very pleased with the way it turned out and I can't wait to see it all painted up and ready to order.

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The second character that I sculpted for Randy this year was Surtur from the pages of the Thor comic. This gigantic fire demon, hellbent on the end of all things. Now this piece was more in keeping with what people have come to expect from my desk at this point. Randy shipped me the base and sword for this piece that already existed and were sculpted by another super talented guy named Helder Moreira. At the end I had to add more flames to Helder's existing base to match the fire on Surtur's head, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention how awesome Helder's stuff is here. There is a certain amount of freedom to sculpting a musclebound fire demon and I think this piece will surprise some people after it's been cast/painted and looks all fiery. This is one piece that will benefit from how it looks post production considering how much the special effects/element of fire comes into play. Sculpting fire is about the most liberating thing there is to sculpt. Swooshing around pink, mushy, soft super sculpey is about as fun as it gets.

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Aside from these Bowen Designs pieces, the line of Green Lanterns continues as well. I only managed to work on two this year, but given everything else, I'll take it. I love sculpting these characters. There's a lot to be said for sculpting stuff you are in to. It's a lot harder to motivate when you don't care as much, or don't know that much about the character you are sculpting. I know it can't always align this way, but when it does, it makes for some incredible inspiration.

A fan favorite Lantern was a lot of fun for me to sculpt. Not as fun as sculpting Hal Jordan himself maybe, but Kyle Rayner was a great example of where my sculpting techniques are headed. I've started to use clay a lot more on parts I have sculpted painfully slow in wax for years now. I've started to stage bake a bit more, and I've also started to cast and sculpt over small resin pieces more as well. With Kyle I did exactly that. I sculpted his face in wax, cast it, and then sculpted the mask and hair over the top of the resin, which made for quicker, more believable structures. Kyle's also a "skinny buff" guy that has more of that swimmer build than the overly muscled hero has.

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Next up is Soranik Natu... a return to the Lanterns, and another deviation from the norm for me. I haven't sculpted a female in about 6 years and I have to say it's a shame. Sculpting a female is forcing the muscles of my brain to work differently and observe things in new ways. I think that is very important for a sculptor to do. If you are content to not push yourself and aren't moving forward, you aren't improving as an artist. I never say I can't do something, I instead ask myself, "how can I figure this out". Successfully sculpting a female piece will always get more attention than anything male and that is the way of the business. Now that I have the Bowen pieces off my desk, this is the one I am most looking forward to completing.

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Last up for now is my pet project. A character that I have been wanting to sculpt from day one... The God of Thunder himself: Thor. I was actually able to start this piece this year, but have had to shelf it for months. That is about to change. This piece is a departure from the many busts that I have worked on recently and it is a treat to be working on a full bodied piece. I have a specific look I am going for with this piece too while somehow trying to retain his classic look. Thor is a warrior. Warriors don't look like body builders. Most of their thickness is in their torso. Their arms and legs are proportionate, but not overly bulky like they have been training with the iron pile. So my feeling for this piece, is a thick and burly chest, middle, with leaner, toned appendages. I've gotten pretty far along, and I am really hoping to take it to the next level very soon. I have taken it off the shelf, conditioned the clay a bit, and am ready to rock.

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I have a lot more in store in 2011 and while I may not get to them all, there WILL be a lot more output, and a lot more blogging insight into the mad stylings of my own process which has evolved this year. After I get ahead of some of the pieces that are in the queue, I am going to go for it and have some pieces in the portfolio that people can't help but take notice of. I feel like the best is yet to come and I'm just warming up.

As always, thanks for looking,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The making of The Wrecking Crew Part I: Piledriver and Dozer

Well I finally have some stuff I can show. My newest works have been sneaked from Bowen Designs and Randy was kind enough to let me post work in progress art for this 4 pack of busts. The minute I saw these busts painted I was extremely excited. I put my heart and soul into them during a time in my life that played out like the opening line from Tale of Two Cities – "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... ”

The best of times = Our first son was born and he was magnificent
The worst of times = A month after he was born he had to have stomach surgery to correct an overdeveloped Pylorus muscle that wasn't letting him digest any food.

Despite a little bit of turmoil, I never missed a beat nor my deadline and I completed 4 works that I am extremely proud of. The Wrecking Crew for Bowen Designs was a dream gig... No BS. We had actually talked about me working on them for him back in 2008 after I finished the Super Skrull, but he had contract renewal delays with Marvel and they were taken off the table as an option.

Cut to 1.5 years later and the opportunity came up to work with Randy again and of course I took it. It was just a bonus that he asked if I wanted to work on the Crew.

Hey Keith, would you like to sculpt 4 of the most expressive, massively muscled, coolest looking d*ckwads, to ever be Thor villains?


So I took the gig and I don't think I stopped smiling the whole time I was sculpting these guys.

I thought I would break this blog down in to 2 parts. The first being about my work on Piledriver and Bulldozer. For some reason most people who like the Wrecking Crew only care about the Wrecker. It was my intention going in that I would do my best to make the other guys in the group just as appealing visually as Wrecker. The best way to do that was to really have expressive faces and personality to each of the pieces.

Piledriver was my hillbilly redneck a$$hole that I knew had to have a grin on his face as if someone told him that he was allowed to break stuff. He loves to pound sh*t to dust... He doesn't care who gets caught in the crossfire and he does it with a smile.

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I surmised that because Piledriver had the least going on visually that he might be the hardest sculpt to get motivated on. My best solution for that foresight was to work on him first. I wanted to use some of that energy and excitement you get on any fresh assignment to propel me through what could have been considered the most visually boring character of the group. I was determined to not let that happen. Piledriver doesn't need weapons to be intimidating. He just wails away with his meat hooks and that is all he's ever needed. I don't think you need accessories to look cool either, as a sculptor it is your JOB to find a way for a character to look cool regardless.

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He ended up being a lot of fun to sculpt and I had a great time working on his anatomy. In fact his anatomy really set the tone for the others in the group. He was a bit more tapered in the waist, with massive shoulders, traps, and arms. These are his weapons, they should look the part.

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Dozer was and is still probably my favorite of the bunch. His mask hides his entire face except his mouth and throwing a snarled, curled lip was something that I thought would look really bad ass if I could pull it off. I almost abandoned that notion and went with more of a scowl, but when all four of these guys pretty much just scowl, there had to be something to set Dozer apart. Luckily I stayed true to the vision I wanted, gave the sneer one more try, and thereby achieved what I wanted and a look that Randy luckily really liked.

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Dozer was the character that I "kind of" roughed in after Piledriver. I say "kind of", because I really worked all four of these at the same time. This is a technique/method that I use all the time now. I find it really helps break through any stress and/or barriers that you sometimes hit with a sculpt. If you spend all of your time stressing about the deadline and why you can't seem to get something right, things will not go well. Better to set one aside and work on something else and usually the answers present themselves naturally while working on a different piece... enable your focus to step outside of itself and come back fresh, to see things clearer, if you will.

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Anyway... Dozer... Yeah, I knew he had to be quite a bit thicker than Piledriver body-wise. Bulldozer is the bruiser of the bruisers. You can't please everyone all the time, but I think people will be really happy with Dozer. He looks like he is about to plow through a bank vault wall or take a shot at Thor himself. On top of that he looks as if he could do it with ease and only mild annoyance at getting dirty.

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I also had a lot of fun with Dozer's costume. All of the studs are glass beads of various sizes and the ear pieces to his helmet are nothing more than chopped up thumb tack/push pins. Using found items to help a sculpt is far quicker, easier, and way more mechanical than my wax pen could do. :)

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The Crew are in the same scale as the Buzzsaw Gladiator bust that Randy put out, and they are about 7 1/4 inches tall. That's no slouch in the mini bust world.

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I gotta say... that working for and with Randy Bowen is top notch. I'm not sure how it works, but it's easy to get geeked and fired up working on a project for him. The guy seriously has seen it all when it comes to sculpting and it's almost as if you learn from him by just having your name attached to a Bowen project. I could not have had more fun working on a project than I did here... despite all of the stress and uncertainty of expecting a baby, trips to the ER, the doctor, sleepless nights etc... The Crew was just one of those things that was never a concern, and that makes for a successful endeavor... if it hurts... don't do it... and all that stuff:)

More to come (part 2 and the part that everyone WANTS to see... the Wrecker) and thanks for looking,