Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Halfland Puppets: Handicapped Butterflies

I always envisioned Halfland's Handicapped Butterflies as beautiful and winsome creatures with exquisite wings and clearly human bodies. They are called handicapped because their forms would be misshapen, deformed, or disabled in some obvious way, not to be crass or insensitive. I wanted them to make an elegant statement as they silently flew past us in the garden that while their human bodies may be impaired, it didn't matter at all because they were quite gracefully able to fly. My point was that a hampered body need not make one useless or of no consequence. As a matter of fact, in Halfland such things are perfectly accepted as part of normal wonderful life.
 I used hyper lightweight air dry fluffy clay mixed to a light flesh color. It took me and Constance a while to get the hang of how to sculpt such a small figure. I was after the impressionistic style of form that my friend Ronda was known for in her ceramics (see the vase she made for me in the middle behind the foam block, the one with women sitting around the top.) I found the best way for me was to make the bodies in sections; legs, torso, heads and arms, that would be attached with 34 guage wire after they cured the next day. Minute details like vertebrae, calf muscles, knees, elbows, nipples, heels, etc. were added under magnifier with small brush and Omnigel.

 Constance delved into Google to find us a selection of butterfly wings that we printed out to scale. I used Omnigel coated wax paper as their material and traced their patterns in pastel chalks and flocking powders.
When I finally paired each finished nude human body with each finished set of wings I was disappointed that they looked too much like fairies, which wasn't what I was after at all. I wanted a more Fine Art, serious result and these were coming out pretty cutesy-pie. Frustrated, I went back in with a vengeance with a blade and hacked them all into slimmer limbs and smaller faces. I glued legs together and flocked their bodies in an effort to make them cross back over into being more insect-like in the bodies. Added and hand striped my finest wire as antenna, which photographs as still too thick.

I'd say that only 2 or 3 survived the make-over as viable characters. I set them on Carol's stunningly lovely finished Teacup Rose trellis on set to see if that helped their effect somewhat. Still not sure.

I did my absolute best with them, although I'm not sure I succeeded.  I learned a lot about sculpting tiny figures and am much more adept at it after this experience. While I'm proud of the success of such tiny sculpts in general, I'm not sure they are up to snuff for the film.

I made them so small that I wonder if the effect I wanted would even be possible at this size. I spent so many hours making these over the last two weeks that I have to declare them all done at this scale for now, try them for distant shots in the garden, and may end up trying to make them again, larger for close-ups, after everything else is done.


  1. Shelley, since you're a truly creative person, even this creation is a success. Maybe not directly for Halfland itself or even now – but maybe you'd use your freshly gained knowledge later in your processes.

    I think it only is a failure if it inhibits you from going on! In such a situation, it works best for me to let the thing rest (and grow) for a few days (or even weeks), doing something else, and then later come back with a less affective approach.

  2. Brilliant idea - disabled butterflies :) I really love it Shelley! And an interesting anti-cutesy dilemma you have... I think you are going in the right direction by making them more animal, perhaps playing round with their bodily proportions would make them less fairy-ish?
    Always admire your work here and so appreciate your kind and lovely comments at my place :)
    x Rima

  3. These are incredible! They read butterfly to me and that's from a dad who has seen his share of fairy movies at our house. I think it's because the wings are based on real wings, maybe? Can't fathom how you sculpt so nicely, so tiny.

  4. They're perfectly lovely, Shelley.

  5. Nothing new, nothing new, then 3 posts all at once!
    That's impressive mini-sculpting, although I do understand your problem. I think maybe you have to push the distortions and differences a lot further, as Rima says. In a created world, quite a lot of distortion will still read as normal, just part of the style. ( It's like aging a set, you need to go over the top for it to come across on camera.) Something that is too small to see clearly, with a vaguely human shape and butterfly wings, is likely to come across as the sort of fairy we expect to see, unless something stands out. The flocking certainly achieves that - they don't look like typical fairies any more! But it also blurs the differences between different characters - that's what I found with flocking too.
    Actually, I don't know which 3 you thought came out the best after the makeover, but of the originals, I like the one in the top left with green wings the best.
    I don't know how important as individual characters these are, but you might consider making close-up versions at a bigger scale for some shots.
    That was a great palm tree in the previous post - looking forward to the tent.

  6. Yes you're right, Jessica, I do feel more skilled after making these. I'm thinking of making a breakthrough and going for it afresh and seeing if I can't get closer to what I envisioned.

    Rima! Your saying that blows my mind because I am in total awe of you and your Fine Art, and writing, and heart, etc., etc., etc. Anyone who doesn't already read your blog is missing one of the finest retreats from Man's World there is.

    I send excerpts from your psalm-like posts to my husband and he always returns a comment exclaiming wonderment, admiration, and reverence over your writing and photos about your life and works.

    Thanks so much, Mike! I take your assessment to heart for sure and it gives me greater assurance, thank you. I use a magnifier now which makes all the difference for smallness in sculpts, I find.

    Thanks, Elva! I have a feeling I can send you one, as a fairie gift, if I can make more the way I want.

  7. Yes, Nick! I totally agree with you! Distortion will be the key! That green winged fairy is now all flocked and in the middle of the first photo in this post, in the rose bush on set. I agree it's the most successful of that first batch.

    Notice I am now calling them my first batch! I am getting amped up to go at it again, only this time much more artist unleashed! With lighter, more translucent wings as well.

    Thank you for your valuable attention and input!

    Not convinced the flocking is right either, other than at the blend point between wings and body flesh. I need something to take it away from plain skin for style but not just by fuzzing the whole puppet.

    Dig me? I'm after flesh just not normal flesh.

    I'll think on it. Metallic wasn't it. Ceramic clay looked like heavy ceramic clay. Staining with walnut ink (surprise!) was close! Please stand by.

  8. Beautiful, creative, elegant work! ...As always.

  9. so much has been going on here since my last visit! butterflies, palm tress, puppets! OH MY! and it's all looking wonderful, as usual.
    my blog is closed at the moment. I felt it too my pressure to keep up/keep update, and I just don't work that way. Might open it again when all is said and done. heh.
    Can't wait to see more! x

  10. Thank you, JON!

    Thanks too, DJ! I understand about the blog. I see via Twitter you have been making great sets, so not blogging seems to really work for you.


  11. (^some of those little people are small enough to be mistaken as bickford's!.

    (^ the commercial I'd been working on for microsoft finally came out last week: I've been mostly focussing on other things lately so haven't slowed down to look in on blogspots.
    (^ good to see you're still plodding along.


  12. HI Brian, I'd love to see the commercial... link?

    Plodding is a true description except the ice is melting so now the project is cooperating!

  13. Rockin and rolling Lady!!


  14. Well, lopping and squishing anyway! Thanks, Justin! xoxo

  15. I love your thinking process Shelley... Who else but you would desire artistic handicapped fairies? I love watching you work through your desires...

  16. Thanks so much, Ullabenulla! That's the great thing about blogs. We can see how things develop blow by blow. I do intend to make a more daring go at the butterflies!

  17. these little guys look great! I also like the idea behind them.
    I just hope you don't have too much trouble animating them when it comes time

  18. Thanks, Terry, yeah, not to worry... the animation of these and other "background" characters is planned to be utterly minimal, just the slightest suggestion of life. Only the main characters will get any real movements.

    Thanks for watching!


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