Sculpture Details: Making Some Revisions

A Perfectionist's work is never done...

The left hand, holding the sketchpad, felt awkward once I really paid attention to the gesture line from wrist, past the radius, through the humorous, and up into the front lean of the shoulder. I tried sitting in the position while holding the pad. It just wasn’t natural. So, as I’ve done to most pieces of the sculpture, numerous times, I melted it down to try again.

EMB 118 IG

What’s funny, is that most of the hand is hidden by the pad and leg of the piece. No one will easily see it. It still matters, though. Everyone knows what a human looks like and will process something is off subconsciously even if they can’t put a finger on it.

EMB 121 IG

I looked at a lot of photos of Victorian men in vests. I wanted to see how they pulled and draped. What I kept seeing was 5 button vests. The 7 button vest was not very common. The more I looked at the torso, the more I felt the 7 buttons were too regular and busy. It felt more like a washboard than a soft vest. I cleaned off my pallet knives and jumped back in, filling in all of my vest work to build out his torso, re-evaluate the pull of his coat, and help the flow.

A little bit of details about the process...

EMB 122 IG

The first photo is just a shot of how I cool my wax for hand building. It’s kind of like working with chocolate. All the work I was going to do on the coat and sleeves would require rolling the wax into soft bars to lay out fold lines. I lay out the line in the flow of the fabric, and press it into shape with my fingers.

EMB 123 IG
EMB 125 IG

At a certain point of the process I take down all of my photos and drawings of the model I use for figurative dimensions. I have pages of measurements, angles, thicknesses, etc. I put it all away, along with a lot of the fear and anxiety I work with for months, trying to correctly represent the anatomy and mass the subject will take up in the world. I let go of all of that, and just work from the piece relating to itself.

EMB 126 IG
EMB 127 IG
EMB 128 IG

I keep photos of Bannister on the walls to keep me company, and I print up some of his paintings to look at while I work. This is the most enjoyable and exciting time for me. Now, every little nudge and addition has big effects. I can just start to see Mr. Bannister looking back at me.

EMB 134 IG
EMB 129 IG
EMB 135 IG

Sculpture Details: The Clothing

EMB 103 IG
EMB 105 IG

Time to dress and accessorize!

With armature fixed, I began to bulk up the cores, and prepare for clothing. Chelsea boots went on. I began to set a base lines for end lines on appendages. I realized that I would need to start working on the sketch pad now. How it would sit in the hands, and what space it would occupy would be effected by the mass of the clothing. I knew for the casting process it would be better for the foundry if the hands and pad were removable to be cast separately.


I used 1/8 deep silicone baking mats to make separate layers of wax sheets. I pressed these together into the sketchbook, adhering the top, curled section to the main body with a sheet of wax dipped fabric. Otherwise, it would always be falling off. It looks like I will need to attach the left hand to the sketchbook as one unit, which will slide past the left leg, and into the left cuff. The right hand will be by itself, and slide into the right cuff, to rest on top of the sketchbook.

EMB 107 IG
EMB 108 IG

I would need to figure out how the wrists would join with the cuffs without getting bound by the legs or clothing.

EMB 104 IG
EMB 110 IG
EMB 109 IG

I am attaching a second cuff to the wrists. I thought it was a neat detail to show that men's shirts would button a starched cuff over their shirt cuff to be seen from their coat sleeve.

The Victorians were full of layers.

EMB 111 IG
EMB 113 IG
EMB 112 IG
EMB 114

Still working on the vest... I'm blocking out the lines for the sack coat, and bulking out mass of the pant legs. The literature describes Bannister as slender. The only almost full body images I’ve found of him back this up. He was fit, an avid sailor.

EMB 115 IG

Still, walking around the piece, I start to see a need to build up his torso. The challenge of full bodied, clothed figures, is keeping the gesture of the form while you pile on layers of clothing. You have to keep your lines, carry the tension of the fabric throughout the different relating forms, and maintain a feeling of the clothing’s material. But first, before you fiddle with details, you need to get as much mass on the figure you can, make sure it flows, and keeps up with the feel of the portrait head.

EMB 116 IG
EMB 117-thisone

Sculpture Posture: The Body

Remember, trust the process...

Expanding foam is a great option for sculpting; minus the curing time.

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.

By building layer upon layer, the foam works as the mass and "muscle" of the sculpture itself.

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.

Continuing this process over and over until a realistic density and mass is achieved.

You can really start to see the shape of the statue come together at this stage...

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.

Sculpture Posture: The Armature

Making the Armature Figure for the piece...

We start by bending the steel rods for the armature.

One challenge in the making of this statue, is designing it to be dismantled for moving, and for making molds at the foundry. It just can't be made as one piece. I know that the figure is going to take a lot more trial and error to complete than the bench. I also know that the bench will get ruined if I have to constantly work over it while I sling around hot wax, fire, and all the other sharp things I use to sculpt with. The armature for the figure needs to stand by itself, and be able to be slid onto/off the bench at any time. The wax figure needs to be sturdy, but very light weight because of this.

My solution is to weld a very simple and linear skeleton out of 3/8 steel rod, bend it into shape, and over-engineer the steel of the right leg to be 3/4 inch steel rod. I will add cardboard cut out silhouettes to the major mass points of the skeleton (rib cage, pelvis,center arm/leg), then fill the figure mass with expanding spray foam. I figure that welding the 3/4 inch steel rod right leg to the steel plate on the floor will support more than the entire weight of the wax and foam figure. The steel skeleton will be ridged enough to hold the sitting pose (especially with the foam reinforcing it) and be thin enough to cut or bend later (when I inevitably see I have made mistakes).

After bending all the rods they get welded together to make up the statue's stance.

I had to put a fire retardant welding blanket over the wax bench as I adjusted and bent the steel armature. This a very long time. It is difficult to imagine and visualize all the proper thicknesses, masses, and relationships of the figure sitting on the bench. It is even more difficult trying to account for the added layers of clothing the figure will wear. The most important part of the armature phase, for me, is making sure the emaciated, tiny looking frame, captures the gesture and feeling of physical gravity that the finished piece will have. If I don't get it before I begin to add wax, I know I will fight the armature throughout the entire process to get there.

Using makeshift materials to simulate the statue's mass on the bench is helpful when it comes to scale and accuracy.

Without fail, at this stage, everything ends up too close, and too cramped. Even using calipers, and measurements taken from a live model, things look maddeningly thin, small and wrong. You just have to have faith in the numbers, and move forward to the foam carving stage.

Sculpture Base: The Bench

But the work has only just begun...

Bench piece with finished brackets.

Once all of the wood is cut, the brackets epoxied into place, and I've had a successful dry fit, it's time to take the whole thing apart, and apply the wax over-structure. I want each slat to be uniform in dimension, though unique in it's hand modeled texture. I also want the 2 frame pieces to be uniform, but unique in texture.

Now after all that...let's take it apart.

Jig that holds wooden slats as they're covered with wax.

Like a Chocolatier, I want the piece of wood to be the filling in a "wax" candy bar. I build a jig that I can put the wooden slat inside of, then pour hot wax over, to the proper thickness. As the wax cools, I scrape it with a piece of textured wood to keep it the right thickness, and texture the surface with a brush, for the right look. I want it to look like a normal bench from a distance, but appear as if painted in 3 dimensions when close up.

The 2 frame supports were laser cut from a piece of 1/2 inch plywood. I want there to be a nice 3/8 inch raised half moon ridge along the entire edge of the frame piece, on both sides.

Wax-covered frames ready for adding ridges.

Wood dowels encased in wax.

The wax dowels adhered to the frames give it a more realistic look.

Can't forget those details and that texture!

First I brush on a thin layer of wax, so anything I add to the piece will stick. To keep it uniform, I make a rubber mold cast of a 3 foot piece of 3/8 inch round wood dowel. I cast one wax dowel at a time, and bend them around the edge of each frame while they are warm enough not to crack. I secure them in place by brushing on hot wax, and filling in the gaps with slightly cooler wax, on a metal pallet knife.

With all our dowels secured in place, its time to move on...

Look at how much texture the wax adds to the frame!

When the silhouette and form is right, I go back and add multiple layers of brushed on wax until I reach the desired thickness and texture. When all the parts have been coated and textured, I reassemble the bench, making sure to place wax paper between each piece. Otherwise, all the pieces would stick together, and get torn apart when disassembled again.

Now we need to reassemble this...temporarily, anyway.

How else will we be able to make sure it's coming out how we envisioned?

At this point the bench is 90% complete. Now I need to recheck all the dimensions and measurements I took from my live model, and figure out how to make the steel skeleton for the wax figure's armature.

Let's double check our measurements before we get too far in...

Using wax paper in between our components helps protect the pieces from getting damaged during disassembly.


With our measurements looking good, we're ready to start tackling the star of the piece; the Bannister Statue.

Sculpture Concept: It Starts With an Idea

As ever, the project starts with empty space, and an idea...

An empty workspace...but not for long!

Before I can start on the figure, I need to make the base. In this case, the figure will be sitting on a reproduction of a Central Park style bronze bench, from around 1850. It is a mix of the traditional design, and the benches I've seen in pictures of Battery Park in Newport, RI, from the time.

I want the bench to match the figure in terms of texture and patina, so I have to make it from scratch.

Online provided a lot of images and dimensions to work from. So, after a lot of math and scaling things in Photoshop, I knew what I would need in wood to make the bench's skeleton. I had to reduce the thicknesses of the actual slats and framing in wood, so I would be able to add a thickness of wax over the entire surface to model the texture I wanted.

All the pieces have to be made separately so they can be dismantled for casting at the foundry.

Reference photos are very important when it comes to getting things scaled correctly.

Final measurements are taken...and it's onto the next step!

A thick layer of wax must be coated over the entire surface for texture.

Bench parts must be cast separately.

I could not find the right brackets for the benches, and had to make them in a 3D CAD program to be able to 3D print.

Special, perfectly fit brackets are 3D printed for this sculpture.

These brackets are then adhered to the bench and left to dry.

The base the bench sits on is the thickness of the stone curb at the statue site. It is raised on 4 inch wheels, to help me move it around as I work. I cut a large notch out, after working around it for a while, to make it easier to get close to the piece.

Once the brackets dry, we're ready to move on!

This steel plate will bear a majority of the statue's weight.

The bench itself, when cast in bronze, will be welded together, and very strong. This wood and wax bench is not very strong at all, and barely held together with small screws. It can't support the weight of anyone or anything sitting on it. Because of this, the steel skeleton armature, and wax figure will be designed to hover over the bench, welded to the 1/4 inch thick steel plate seen in the last picture.

Trusted by Immediate Edge