Amy’s Ravens – Assembling an ArtDoll

Watch how these Raven men come together in the process of assembing an art doll…

Amy’s Ravens

with Guest Artist

Amy Rawson,

(used with permission)

Note from Apryl: I came across this fabulous tutorial years ago.  It was my inspiration for Gabriel’s wings and taught me the basics of putting an Art Doll together.  As you sculpt, be sure to play around with non-human shapes as well.  With fantasy figures, you have more freedom to create whatever calls to you.  As I was learning to sculpt the human body, I found it very helpful to take a break every once in a while and sculpt something different.  Let yourself play!  And as Amy shows us, this fantasy play can create amazing works of art!

‘Hugin and Munin’ Sculpture, written by Amy L.Rawson
This article will be a short demonstration of how I created “Hugin and Munin,” a sculpture I completed recently. These sorts of sculptures are often referred to as “art dolls,” or “fabric sculptures,” but really it’s hard to place them in any category. They are created using a wide variety of materials and there are no set rules about how to make them. So keep in mind as you read this article that my word on this matter is far from definitive, for there are as many different techniques involved in this sort of art as there are artists.

That said, let’s begin! Everything starts with an idea. My idea for this sculpture came from Norse mythology. Hugin and Munin are Odin’s twin raven scouts. I thought it would be interesting if Hugin and Munin were depicted as human figures with raven heads and wings. I pictured them in all black clothing, to mimic a raven’s all black plumage. After a few preliminary sketches, I set about constructing them. Since there are two figures in this sculpture, I made them at the same time, but I’ll only be showing photos of one or the other (whichever one demonstrates that stage of construction the best) for most of the tutorial.

I start my figures off with wire armatures. I use 16 or 18 gauge electric fence wire for body armatures. You can find it in most garden or hardware stores for a lot cheaper than you’ll find armature wire in craft stores. I buy it in 1/4 mile spools and it lasts me quite a long time. I use pliers to bend the wire into a basic human figure shape (minus head, hands, and feet, which will be sculpted later). I use a double wire construction but I don’t twist the wires together because this actually weakens the armature. It makes the wires more like springs, and they aren’t as sturdy as a simple straight-wire construction. I use electrical tape to secure the doubled wire in various places, so that they will bend in unison when I go to pose the armatures. When making your armature, it’s important to spend some time with a ruler to make sure you’ve got the proportions of your figure correct. You have some leeway, of course, because the wire will be deep inside the sculpture, but getting the arms and legs the right general length for the overall height will save you a lot of agony later on.

Next, I bend the wire armatures into the pose I want. My idea was to have one of the raven twins crouched with his hand out to the ground as if he were studying something, perhaps animal tracks. The other raven man would be standing beside with his arms crossed over his chest as though he were contemplating something farther away, or perhaps, just lost in thought. They would be pegged to a wooden base for support, so here I have them posed on the wooden base to give myself an idea of how close they’ll be standing, and how this might affect construction. I’ve also attached wires to their backs that will later form the armature for the wings.

After they are in the correct pose, I cut strips of felt about 1/2″ wide and wrap the wire armature tightly. Wrapping the armature in this fashion makes it very strong, so that it will support the weight of the various hard-sculpted body parts.

Next, I cut quilt batting into narrow strips like the felt and wrapped the parts of the body that needed more bulk. The quilt batting tends to be too fluffy and not precise enough, so I wrap yarn over top of the batting to shape it (wrap it tighter to condense the batting more, looser to leave it bulkier) and to hold it in place.

Then, I give the figure “skin” by sewing pieces of muslin into place over the batting. This is sort of a trial and error procedure accomplished by draping pieces of muslin over the wrapped armature and cutting out shapes that should fit. When I sew them into place I have to make various adjustments to get it looking right. Sometimes, I have to poke a bit more stuffing in here and there; sometimes I have to cut and re-sew areas. Eventually I arrive at a form that looks pretty good. Because my figure is going to be almost completely covered in clothing, I don’t have to create highly detailed anatomy. I just need the body shapes to be correct enough to suggest the proper form underneath the clothing. Here you can see I’ve only given the figure the muslin skin down to the elbows and knees. This is because I will sculpt the forearms and lower legs out of clay along with the hands and feet.

Next, it is time to start sculpting the hands and feet. I do most of my sculpting with epoxy clay (such as Magic Sculp or Apoxie Sculpt), because it is a very strong clay that cures at room temperature (no need to bake it, as with polymer clay) and sticks to just about anything. This means I can sculpt it directly over wire and fabric. When I need a longer working window (epoxy clay cures in about 3 hours) I’ll use polymer clay, as it stays workable until you bake it.

For the hands, I make smaller wire armatures using florist’s wire (gauge 22 or so – it comes in various gauges). I cut five individual pieces of wire and tape them together at the wrist with electrical tape. Then, I splay them out and cut the ends down to make the thumb and fingers, taping across what would be the palm to hold the fingers evenly spaced. After that, I attach the hand armature to the arm wire with epoxy clay. In this picture you can see I’ve already begun to sculpt the forearms, as well.

After the epoxy clay holding the armature in place has cured, I bend the finger wires into their final poses and sculpt the hand over the armature with more epoxy clay. In sculptures like this, the hands and fingers are often the most fragile part, so sculpting the hands this way makes them stronger and helps prevent breakage.

Because I intend to give my raven men shoes, there is no need to sculpt detailed feet. In fact, when making shoes the way I do, it’s best to sculpt the feet in the shape of the shoe. Then, all you have to do is cover the sculpted foot with your shoe material (I use leather most often) and you’ve got a good looking shoed foot. I want to give them soft-looking shoes that are slightly pointed at the toes, so that’s how I sculpt the feet. I leave little holes in the bottoms of the feet so that I can later stand them on wooden pegs on the base, which makes them more stable and displays them together properly posed.

Next, it is time to sculpt the head. When sculpting the heads for my art dolls, I often create a foil-packed (to make it more lightweight) epoxy clay center to act as an armature, and then sculpt a layer of polymer clay over the epoxy clay after it’s cured. This allows me greater flexibility in working time, as the polymer clay stays workable until I bake it. For the raven head, I want the beak to be all epoxy clay, because it’s long and thin and will be more prone to breakage. So I start with packed foil in the general shape of a raven skull, and cover it with the epoxy clay. I give the beak a finished look, but just leave the rest of the head rough, as it will be covered by more clay.

I also roll out several little balls of epoxy clay and let them cure, and then use a pair as the raven’s eyeballs. I set them in the eye sockets I had sculpted in the skull form, sticking them down with more epoxy clay. Using already-cured eyeballs this way allows me to keep the surface of the eyeball smooth and round as I sculpt other features around it. Then, I bulk out the head a bit more by packing foil around it to build up the general shape of the feathers, using little bits of epoxy clay to hold the foil pieces in place. Packing foil into a sculpture like this really cuts down on weight and saves on clay.

After that has cured, I add a layer of polymer clay to the head and spend a lot of time sculpting the feathers and the eyelids, and getting the texture and expression I want. I bake the polymer clay to cure it, and the head is done.

Next I have to attach the head to the body. I’ve left a bit of the body armature sticking up to give me something to attach the head wires to. I bend the head wires out to the side so they will end up stabilizing the head on the shoulders, and I use a bit of electrical tape to hold the whole thing together on the neck wires. Then, I add some epoxy clay around the neck to cement the various armature wires together.

I continue to build the neck and shoulders up in layers of epoxy clay. I sculpt the final layer of epoxy clay to mimic the feather texture on the head. The join looks obvious in this photo, but after it’s been primed and painted it’s nearly seamless.

On the front side of the neck, I have planned to glue actual feathers to form a sort of neck ruff. Ravens tend to puff out their neck feathers like this, so I think a neck ruff will help them to look more raven-like. I sculpt little holes all over the front of the neck so that I’ll have an easy way to glue all the ruff feathers in later.

At this point, most of the hard-sculpting is done, and it’s time to paint the sculpted features. I use enamel primer, and then paint over it with acrylics. I use a few different washes, to try and pick out some of the feather detail, then give it a final coat of acrylic varnish (matte except for the eyes where I use gloss to give them a wet look).

Next, it is time to start making the clothing. Usually, I start with the shoes and then work my way up. I want the clothes to look vaguely Viking, since these are characters from Norse mythology, so I did a lot of research on the web and came up with something inspired by 11th century Viking garb. I’m not trying to go for historical accuracy, but I do want them to have a historical feel. For the shoes, I found a pattern online for skoles, a kind of ancient turn-shoe. I have adapted the pattern to my ravens’ feet, and cut little shoe patterns out of very thin leather. I found a leather with a nice pebbled texture to it that I thought gave the impression of scaly bird feet. I glue these leather pieces directly onto the foot, basically constructing the shoe around the foot form (as opposed to constructing the shoe separately and then trying to slip it on the foot). I even give the shoes a tiny little bit of knotted leather lacing to look like a tab closure.

Next, I make both of them trousers. This is where some tailoring or costuming experience comes in handy. With a little practice, it’s really not hard to draft your own clothing patterns, especially for this sort of project, since the clothing only has to LOOK good – it doesn’t have to actually be functional. The trousers are fairly simple, just a straight leg construction. I found a wonderful soft black fabric for all of the clothing, which had a nice drape to it. Finding a good variety of fabric that is thin enough to drape properly at this small scale can be difficult.

I sew the trousers directly to the cloth body at the waist (to keep them in place), then wrap the leg from the knee down with leather strips, binding the trouser fabric inside the leather strips. This seemed to be a stereotypical Viking look, with the leather straps wrapped around the lower legs. I like the way it’s turning out, because it almost looks like they’re wearing tall boots.

The tunic is another fairly simple pattern, with close fitting sleeves and a flared bottom edge. I want their costumes to be identical, so I need something that looks good on both the standing figure and the crouching figure. The skirt-like tunic works out well because it looks good on the standing raven, while still having enough room to drape nicely over the crouching raven’s legs. I leave the neckline cut very low and unfinished, as I’d be gluing the ruff feathers on over top of the tunic.

Here, I’ve glued all the ruff feathers into the little holes I’ve sculpted in the chest. I’ve used black neck hackle feathers for this, because they are pointed like a raven’s feathers. Also, at this point I can start working out exactly how I want to construct the wings, and you can see I’ve added a bit of epoxy clay to the wing wires at the back.

Next, I get to work on the wings. I have several black coque (rooster tail) feathers I want to use as the main part of the wings. I sculpt a basic frame over the wing wires with epoxy clay, and insert the long coque feathers right into the clay. When the clay cures, the feathers were well secured.

I use a whole lot of smaller black feathers (some more of the neck hackle feathers I used on the ruff, and also some marabou feathers here and there) to cover the rest of the wing framework. I just glue these feathers on, layering them so that each layer of feathers hides the glued ends of the previous layer.

The last step is to give them cloaks. The cloaks are nothing more than large rectangles of fabric that I hemmed and sewed up around their necks. I add little tiny broaches made of epoxy clay, as well, and paint them with metallic paint so they’ll look like silver. That finishes off the figures, and now all I have to do is glue the pegs into the wooden base and paint it black.

Finally, here’s the picture of “Hugin and Munin” that appears in my Epilogue gallery, posed together on their wooden base.

I hope you’ve found this demo helpful! If you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to answer.

Article by Amy L. Rawson.

Comments on Amy’s Ravens – Assembling an ArtDoll

  1. Wow ! Love this idea, as I am Norwegian ! Each time I see a tutorial I always learn something new ! Thanks for all your detail ! Want to try adding Epoxy clay to my bag o tricks !!

  2. Kathryn says:

    The details you shared are very helpful and will help me do better work of my own. Thank you!

  3. netty says:

    Wow! They look so realistic even before the clay went on! Truly brilliant and very well explained ☺

  4. LYNNE says:

    I just love this and have always admired this type of work I’m baffled where to start shopping if I can work to small scale but I have a painting I did of crows in a very fancy suit and leather boots its called Horis and Doris. I would love to make them as dressed sculptures. Is there a link to where you shop?

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