Monday, March 24, 2014

Quick! To the Muse-Mobile!!

So. There was no post last week. Various contributing reasons, but the best one was:
My sister had her adorable Eva on Wednesday and both baby and mom are home/healthy. I know lots of people say this, but she is the cutest monchichi I ever have seen. I am itching to get home this April to see her and poke those chubby cheeks. 

And now for the worst reason for no post last week: I had nothing to post. >< I've been taking my time with Oni since he's just as important if not more so than Julia. I've nailed a design that I'm happy with and have been carefully building up pieces for Raul's reference as he's sculpting the parts that will be 3D printed, so I had nothing ready yet. In an effort to quickly bolster my archive so that I might have something to post in the slow moments (I anticipate a lot in April since I'll be out of town two weekends in a row) I started a sketch of Anne Neville from The White Queen. 
I didn't love it. 
I mean, it was okay, but it wasn't challenging. It was too close to the Tudors historically and culturally. It wasn't to try out a new technique. And beyond my passing fancy of the series, it didn't speak to me. The York and Lancaster women were certainly strong and interesting characters, but my favorite person in the whole series was Richard III. 
Fellow Shakespeare enthusiasts may well be confused or ashamed. I am myself still puzzled. 

Feeling rather despondent, I went into my kitchen and promptly spilled something since that seems to be what I do in the kitchen most of the time. Spill things. I looked around for a hand towel and there were none. Which is also not surprising since my significant other enjoys playing hide and seek with my hand towels. (Who needs a cat when you can have a boyfriend?) I finally found a hand towel under the couch and that's when inspiration struck. 

For about as long as I can remember any house in which I reside has had one or more of these hand towels, lovingly hand embroidered with various Sunbonnet Sue patterns. I do not have a complete set though I would like one, I seem to only acquire those intended for the month of January (As if looking out the window wasn't enough of an indicator that I live in an inconsiderately cold climate). None the less, they have always intrigued me since you never see Sue's face. You never know if she does her chores jovially or with resentment. Who is Sue anyways? Would it destroy the mystique to give her more than a hat?
So after cleaning the spill I did some digging. The original "Sunbonnet babies" were the creation of Denver native Bertha Corbett Melcher, a children's book illustrator in the early 1900s who studied under Howard Pyle. That was a name I recognized from Art history class. Her hooded children doing chores were reprinted on everything you could imagine, including fabric - leading to the HUNDREDS of patterns existing today, including multicultural Sues and Sues of various ages. 
I already had hand towels (Likely to get more for Christmas) and I didn't need another puppet project immediately, but I wagered my own take on Sue might be an interesting tribute to my Nana and great Nana. And it'd give me something to post in-between Oni updates. Since that style of bonnet was a bit too close to the time period of OniSan, I updated her to an era I had thus far widely neglected, the 1930s (Oh so Greatly Depressing in terms of fashion) and ta da!

More to come from both OniSan and Sunbonnet Sue! :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Aww yeah! LEVEL UP!! This is for the IlloLifeRPG that the amazing Chris Conlon started. (I met him through Oatley Academy - super awesome fun times!!)

Check out those boosted Sculpting, Patience, and Constitution stats. Hard earned those.

For this level, I was thinking of playing up the "evil" since for whatever reason I scored that alignment the first time around. (Probably had something to do with traffic that day) At the time I was sketching I was also watching a Fashion documentary on Netflix, so my brain said "strike a fierce Tyra!" Next on the Netflix playlist was yeah, color scheme, straight lines and circles. Little bit rushed towards the end; just super stoked for the next puppet-y piece. (I suppose it should have been orange then...if I was really sticking to the "evil" theme)

Why so much Netflix lately? Well. It started with Tonsilitis. Which was treated with Amoxicillin. That caused an allergic reaction. Which was handled with mass amounts of Benadryl. That was stopped cold turkey once the hives went away. Which caused a major upset in my stomach. That eventually lead to an awkward nap in my cubicle during lunch today. Three weeks later and I think I've finally kicked it. :)

So now that Miss Julia is finished (Save one more page down the road) I've started work on OniSan. Already have a few sketches that I like, but I want to try pushing him further before settling on a design to take forward. When I was talking to Lady Katherine before she flew home today, she had some ideas for Oni involving more adjustable appendages made of foam so I might try that out and do another massive case study - It'll be a bit more practical for puppets as opposed to sculptures. And I do intend to highlight more of the inherited sewing skills as well. So look forward in the coming weeks for the start of that.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Building Character: Julia Master Post

Most of my lovely regulars have been following the development of this particular mini-project in past posts, but a few such lovelies suggested a Master Post with the whole process, materials and more comprehensive insight into the struggles and victories I experienced while bringing Miss Julia to life. I think it's a brilliant idea. Not only do I hope that it inspires others in their endeavors, but it will help me when I start the next mini-project: IE Julia's counterpart, OniSan.

It's going to be a big hold onto your butts.  

The Idea. The original plan was to make a fully functioning stop-motion puppet, something akin to Coraline or ParaNorman since creating characters for LAIKA is my dream job. To begin, I watched every stop-motion movie plus their special features I owned or could find legally online and scoured through the two books that I got for my birthday on stop-motion:
      1. Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation: Edition 2 by Susannah Shaw (Recommended by LAIKA on Twitter and gifted by Mom)
      2. The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation by Ken A. Priebe (Gifted by Raul – whoever wants to gift me part one will be loved forever)
Both wonderfully helpful for people making puppets and for people animating puppets and really for anyone interested in stop-motion. After sticky-noting my way through these and doing some more Google-based research on custom part costs. It became clear that as much as I wanted to learn/strengthen my molding/casting and tinkering abilities, I would not be able to make her a puppet this time around. It would break my budget and kill my savings for our impending relocation. As I wasn't planning on animating her either, I couldn't justify the cost, no matter how cool. So the goal was revised to be: make a detailed multimedia sculpture – similar to the Swamp Witch I made for Joan Kresek's Illustration Media class but better. I could use that for displays and for lighting reference and it'd still be cool. Huzzah for multitasking!

The Materials List. Most if not all of these materials were already on hand since Raul does a lot of sculpting and I also have a bit of a sewing/cross stitch hobby on the side. (Comes from being raised by a mob of quilters) Everything else came from local craft stores such as Michael's, JoAnn's, and Meiningers.
    1. Armature
      1. Paper to cover workspace and tape to hold it in place
        1. Armature and Jewelry wire      For building the skeleton of the armature
        2. Piers                                          For trimming and bending wires
        3. Epoxy Putty                              For solid, immobile areas
        4. Wood Base and screw/nut        For a stand
        5. Tin/Aluminum foil                   For building the bulk areas of the armature
        6.  Calipers                                     For measuring things

  1. Sculpt and Paint 
    1. Super Sculpy (The peach stuff)                   For sculpting itself
    2. Turpenoid                                                    For smoothing out the clay
    3. Various sculpting tools                                For shaping the clay and smoothing surface  
    4. Acrylic Paints – opaque, translucent, glimmers            For painting the baked sculpture
    5. Acrylic gloss medium                                                    For “wetting” eyes  
    6. Brushes and water cup/paper towels and Palette paper                     For using the paint

  1. Hair
    1. Embroidery floss – various colors               Primary hair material
    2. Glue Gun and glue sticks                             For securing various materials in place
    3. Jewelry wire                                                 For structuring curls of hair
    4. Scissors                                                        For snipping things
    5. Tweezers                                                      For precision placements 

  1. Costume
    1. Two varieties of a basic costume satin.        For the dress
    2. Two varieties of satin ribbons                      For the ribbon-y bits
    3. Tulle                                           For poofing up the skirt without adding too much weight
    4. Lace                                           For details
    5. More Embroidery floss – same color as lace            For hand-made lace
    6. Thread and Needle and Sewing Machine                 For sewing and fastening things
    7. Bristol board paper                                                   For “stiffening” the corset
    8. Seed Beads                                                               For pearl details
    9. Jewelry Charm (From Britt)                                     For broach detail
    10. Pins                                                                           For holding stuff together
    11. *Had I a functioning Iron I would have used that too, for pressing seams more neatly. That's a Christmas Hint - Mom or Nana - Practical and Fun. ;) 

  1. Prop
    1. Scrapbook paper                        For the paper fan
    2. Thin, squared dowel                  For the support of the paper fan
    3. Regular glue                              For fastening the fan together

Of course I had a separate area reserved for working so I didn't have to waste time packing up each night. And I moved the lamp from the bedroom to the studio for more/better light. I mentioned before that I don't have quite enough light in the studio area, but what I do get from windows is cold north light as opposed to the lamp's predominantly warm light. This gave me a good sense of how my colors were engaging each other in various scenarios – since she won't always be sitting up in the studio. The unofficial materials list looks like this:
      1. Large glass of Milk                        For drinking/hydration - very important
      2. Snack foods                                    For snacking
      3. Speakers                                         For listening to Raul's Spotify
      4. Raul                                                For immediate consultation
      5. Circle of Trust                                For ongoing feedback
      6. Cell Phone                                      For checking time and occasionally         
                                                                 communicating with various people
      7. Internet                                           For ongoing research and other such things

The Process.

I started with piecing together the development page so I wouldn't be guessing along the way in terms of what I wanted her to actually look like or what materials would be most practical. A good deal of the researching started here. I looked at everything I could think of that would pertain to her character and the sculpt and I looked at things that might not necessarily be related, but I stumbled into and found interesting anyways. (This is a habit I thank my Mom for and also why I know so much random crap) I like to think I have a pretty good sense of what works and what doesn't when I have a clear picture of what I want the outcome to be. There's always some room for trial and error, but most of the time I end up with satisfactory results within the first two construction attempts. I find it best to spend a lot of time in this phase so there are fewer frustrations and broken hearts (limbs) later.

When I was FINALLY happy with her (This wasn't the first iteration by any stretch of the imagination) and the costume I made an orthographic image to scale of the final model. She stands 9.5” tall, so a little larger than the proportions LAIKA used for Coraline, who I believe stood about 7”. Drawing the blueprint allowed me to trim wires consistently to the right lengths (Calipers are super useful doing that) and build up the appropriate amount of cushion with the foil so as not to over-due the Sculpy and have problems baking.

I referenced a video tutorial that Jordu Schell made for the sculpting techniques as well as pestering Raul for his advice. (He sculpts a LOT of dinosaurs/creatures and was actually working on something-that-looked-like-a-hammerhead-newt-whose-scientific-name-I-can't-remember-and-I-feel-his-eyes-judging-me-even-now while I was doing this project) The hands were super hard. I did them once. Hated them and tore them off. Tried again. Hated them and tore them off. And then I rewired the finger armatures and tried again. Passable. Even though I wrapped them all separately in foil before baking...two still stuck together – eliminating my hopes for giving her gloves, like in the drawing. I followed the baking directions on the box of Sculpy – about 15 min at 275F – removing a shelf in the oven so her head wouldn't be too close to the coils. Thankfully nothing burned.

From here I could have opted to utilize the already peachy tone of the Sculpy, but I've never been fond of that color so I built up layers of skin – used pretty much every color under the sun...except maybe yellow. When I was ready for the smaller details of the face I proceeded cautiously, using the glimmer stuff sparingly on her lips and eyelids and saving the gloss medium on her eyes for the last touch. I added her little pearly necklace at this point with a seed bead and embroidery floss and a TINY drop of glue.

Next came her hair, which was super fun. Ideas of using my own hair were fizzled by the glue gun which liked to melt and burn things without my permission. In the end there was probably more glue on the table than on the project due to the gun dripping so much which was a bit disappointing. Didn't burn my fingers nearly as much though. I started with her lower, larger curls which are wires wrapped in embroidery floss (Got the idea from ParaNorman special features when they were talking about making Neil's hair). They were the first glued on. I had to reposition one and accidentally cracked her neck, but it's a hairline deal that paint covered up. If I hadn't just told you, you probably wouldn't have noticed. Then came the hiding of those wire ends with some very careful arrangements of “roots” and such. After that came the top of her head and the side curls, equally hidden amongst “roots” and finally her bangs which wove back into her bun. It was an exercise in problem solving for sure and I was really thrilled with how it turned out. In the Swamp Witch I had to braid clay for her hair and roll a million coils which I am admittedly not great at even though it came out okay. Embroidery floss is much easier, lighter and cheaper. It also comes in all sorts of fun colors and it's like string cheese – one strand breaks into 6 – who doesn't love that?

Next came the layering challenge of her costume – the real tricky part. I started playing around with the Bristol for her corset first before realizing the skirt should probably come before that if I was going to hide those seams effectively. So the first thing was the underskirt. This involved cutting out the pieces for the skirt (I didn't make a mini pattern for this like I did the mini corset a while ago, I guesstimated it based on the last skirt I made for myself) and sewing those seams. Cutting out the lighter green rectangles for her bottom hem, gluing those in place. Cutting the ribbons, gluing them together and to the skirt. Sewing the back seam. Prepping the waist cinch. And the grand finale of that layer – hand stitching the smaller lace. I used a basic backstitch so I didn't have to be as concerned with loosing loops than if I used a regular forward stitch. Once done I dropped it over her head and cinched it in place. (I bunched up the tulle and stuck that underneath to keep her skirts poof-y, probably could have used something else, but I had it on hand and it's not like she's going to be walking around much)

Next came the upper skirt, which I started the same way as the lower skirt. Once I had it cinched in place I glued the lace on the bottom edge (should have done that sooner) and used a hand needle to pull up the gathers and tack the ribbons in place. The bow was probably the one place where I could have spent a little more time on to get something closer to what I had in the drawing.

Next I wrapped the Bristol corset in more fabric (GLUUUUE) and wrapped her up snugly, which hid the aforementioned skirt seams. Next time I'll give it a bit more clearance in the armpit region so fitting the corset will be easier. I also cinched some of the lace for the sleeves. It wasn't until I was writing this that I realized that I forgot part of her sleeve. That's what I get for stashing the reference picture before I finished. Won't do that again. After the sleeves, I very carefully made the collar piece – opting not to do the hand lace there since that wasn't exactly fun the first time nor did I think it ended up subtracting much from the design. The jewelry bit came from Brittany's vast collection of jewelry coolness (THANK YOU) and I nipped the top part off with a pliers before gluing it in place. The seed bead there I had to sew on by hand.

The fan was fun and a lot more trial and error. I have a LOT of fans around my apartment, but I still had to basically guess how to cut the appropriate shape out of paper. 4th try got it. Then I had to fold tiny folds back and forth. And then glue the dowels bits in place and all that to her hand. Probably better that the gloves didn't work out at this point.

Then all the photography! My little brother took those classes in high school, but I didn't have room for them and the animation/advertising...kinda wish I had taken at least one of them though. I set her up with a blank background and used every lamp I owned to try and get something workable. My little power shot camera wasn't the best – nothing like the SLRs I had access to at school – but it worked well enough for the time being. I'll see if I can get better pictures before this fall. In terms of final victories – she looks MUCH closer to the drawing than the Swamp Witch did to her drawing, so vast improvement with my 3D skills/my ability to translate 2D to 3D. Albeit a few tweaks I am very pleased. Reminds me a little of Red Nose Studio. Love his work.

The Conclusion. Just because the sculpt was done, didn't mean I could rest. I had been doing some doodles of Julia while building the sculpt and taking all the process pictures, so I spent another chunk of time cleaning those up, formatting pages, etc. so I could have those four pages ready to post with the finish. I still have one more to do – her “beauty shot” - one visual development illustration featuring her. I'm contemplating thumbnails, but I may wait to revisit her until after I'm further along with OniSan's mini project. Wouldn't be much of a portfolio to just have one character in it. lol

I think in total she took me about 15-20 hours, but that was spread out over several nights and about half a weekend due to the day job – patience was key on this, I tried really hard not to rush or get ahead of myself – which translated to me looking like I was just staring at her for hours I'm sure. Definitely think I leveled up though, so I guess it's time for a quick character sheet update. :)

If anybody thinks of something I forgot or wants to know something even more specific, please leave me a comment and I'll reply ASAP. I hope to take her "on tour" this fall *fingers crossed* so anyone heading to CTN can come check her out in person. 

Onwards to OniSan!! :D