Remember, trust the process...
Once the welded steel armature is set, I cover the whole thing in layers of expanding spray foam. Over the years, I've tried lots of different "fillers" to cut down on the weight and cost of a wax sculpture.
Expanding spray foam has been the best performing option for me, so far. It is light. It has a fine enough bubble structure to be sandable, and cuts very easily with a sharp knife. It sticks to almost anything, and reaches a consistent mass when allowed the full time to cure. The only annoying part is the long wait for it to fully cure. If you cut into it early, you discover just how well it sticks to everything. I call this phase the mushroom carving stage. It is a tide of building the foam, and carving it away, over and over again that lasts for many weeks.
I constantly draw on the shape with a sharpie pen, compare dimensions with measurements and my calipers. I go back and forth between the numbers I got from the model, and the life-size prints I made of the model's photos. Ideas change as soon as you begin to give mass to fantasy. What worked in your head doesn't quite work in broad daylight. This phase becomes the bedrock of the sculpture.
Even throughout the built up layers, we want to clean this foam up with our tools and make it look more body-like.
The hardest part is having faith in your experience, and vision. Your eyes tell you the form is too long, too thin, too awkward. Your brain tells you to leave room for the wax, which will be the actual muscle mass and clothing thickness. If you don't trust the steps you take now, because of the mistakes you had to correct on work in the past, you will have to fix them again.
It's a good idea to use die-cut cardboard for body features such as the nose, feet, ears, etc...
All of the surface details will be different, but the gesture and feeling of gravity will remain in the finished piece. You want the flesh to sit on the bench. You want the clothing to hang on and caress the form. If the skeleton/armature floats with an awkward gesture, so will the finished figure. Take your time and get it as close as you can before you commit to the wax. It is awful to have to make major changes to the armature once you've done great things in the wax phase.
Some pictures of the work on the hands...
A wire armature helps me keep proportion, and allows me to easily change positions. I kept the pieces on a heating pad to keep the wax at a workable softness.
Depending on the firmness of the wax, my tools range from my fingertip to a small hammer.
Working in 3D, you constantly have to move your point of view. It is very easy to get drawn into a zone or angle. If you concentrate too much in one area, it warps the gesture and form of the whole. What looks wonderful head-on, looks deformed from the bottom right. In my process, I end up re-sculpting the portrait head several times. To help me with symmetry, and to save parts of the piece that I like, I cut and paste pieces from failed attempts. The wax makes this very forgiving.
In this case, one eye was too deep, and the orbital warped.
I removed the eyes, worked out their symmetry separately, balanced the orbitals, and reapplied them.
Once I got the head, feet and hands to a certain level, it was time to attach and evaluate the body. Of course, once the first coat of wax goes on, and things are sitting relative to themselves, the game plan changes. Weeks and months of planning go out the window, things need to be shortened, raised, bent, etc. And the process continues as a tide of creating and destroying, not a straight path. From every angle.
Friction causes small fires in the foam, and smokes out your studio. The usual.
Due to the state of the world right now, getting the special blend of microcrystalline wax I use has been difficult and expensive. Silver lining, it has slowed me down to better refine my work as I go.
In order to keep working regularly on the piece, I’ve been cannibalizing older wax pieces.
I’ve also been scraping my drips from the floor to melt down and filter through a window screen to reuse. I do this anyway, but usually wait to the end.
As I move forward with the piece, and see it growing in front of me, ideas from its inception evolve and grow. Where I once had Bannister looking down, sketching in his own world, new information and experiences have inspired me to open him up, and have him engaging with the subject of his sketch instead. This small change in intent echoes into a host of little changes in his gesture and composition to reflect this new energy. Therefore, yet another incarnation of the portrait head ensues.
Something didn’t feel, or look right one morning. I’d been looking at lots of photos of Victorian and Edwardian men sitting with legs crossed. It became clear that they really didn’t “spread out” as much as men would now.
Normally their legs would be touching with knees crossed over each other. I toyed with that image in my head, taking into account needing to balance a drawing pad.
I took a bit of artistic license, and compromised by bringing his right leg in more, to let the person sitting next to him enjoy their space uninterrupted.
So, I had to tear down the legs and lower body to get to the armature so I could cut it, re-weld it with an additional two inches of height, bend the legs into the correct positions, and readjust all the gestures. Of course, the arms needed to come off and find new positions.
While the head was removed, I found other angles that needed adjusting as well, leading to head 6. This is the process.