Monday, June 24, 2013

Eye Love It!

 Made up a big batch of balls to test varies materials/ideas and ultimately found my way.

I've worked out my technique for crafting eyeballs for Halfland puppets. I bought some air dry clay at an office supply store, of all places, something I never would have bought ordinarily. It turned out to have very interesting properties for this task that make it ideal. It shapes smoothly, dries on its own without special equipment, carves nicely in the greenware stage before it's dry, and burnishes with a soft cloth to a wonderful, gentle sheen, seen above. Reminds me a bit of an eggshell finish. I love its natural dry color as well. No need to paint the whites.
From my experience making the Koi of Enlightenment's eyes and other paintings years back, I remembered that real gold leaf, not metallic paint, not iridescent mica, only real gold leaf, sitting at the bottom of a stack of painted layers carries forward with magical effect. It's as though the gold imbues whatever colors placed on top of it with an inner light, like magnified jewels. I applied gold size to flat faces of the balls and proceeded to layer up watercolors and other mediums to see what a mermaid's irises might be.

Back in New York, I bought several expensive pairs of hand-blown glass eyes from a taxidermy shop in Manhattan. Two seen top left, I noticed that what really gave them depth was how the pupils were not on the surface of the cornea but rather embedded under a thick clear layer of glass. I copied this with my liquid diamond glaze medium, building up the layers as each step dried. I used paper punches in black paper for pupils to get them as perfectly round as possible. My favorite results seen lower right. A smaller version, without its pupil, seen lower left, in the test Kyra puppet's face.

On the top right are two whimsical glass eyes bought on that same trip that I embedded into clay and painted many years ago. These were made for a soft plush monster toy idea I had so I made them have crazed bloodshot look by painting the whites with a porcelain crackle medium and tinting the craze with stark red glaze.
I also tried many things along the way that didn't work. I first tried using milk glass beads (upper left) for the eyes but found their holes showed up in the animation and their sizes too restrictive. A stick was used in the paper cast of the Kyra pupp to gauge the best size for the ball and the iris for her final eyes (upper right). Below left, I tried to recreate the intricate texture of an iris by gluing down a cyclone of painted faux fur and trimming to size when dry. But it didn't translate as natural and I found that simple layers of paint came across as complicated enough ad did the job much better. On the bottom right are a few selections of unraveled silk strips that will be glued in place on the pupps as eye lashes. Any colors you'd like!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ms. White Comes to Stay

Ms. Deborah George triumphantly arriving to Camp Stop Mo for the week; her wonderful little stop mo puppet she brought to show me in person, Deborah took studious notes the entire visit.

So, Robert Ito's NYTimes article continues to turn up miracles here. I get an email from a veteran art/science/animation teacher in California who has been awarded an externship to use over her summer break to expand her techniques and experience in stop motion to make her classes even more valuable for her students. She's asking to spend her hours in Halfland, to shadow what I'm doing, to learn whatever I know, to get her hands onto more puppets, to see how others approach their projects, etc.

I met she and her husband shortly thereafter and saw she was sincere and sane. It just so happened that the days she had for her first trip up from her home, 2 hours away, was the same week that Christine! was on a trip back East and my husband would be away during that same time. Ms. White, actually known as Deborah George, was going to find a little room for rent nearby, but with a whole room here free, I thought we could get more work done if she stayed over. We made it an art intensive stop motion camp for 5 days and nights.

We set about our huge task of making Ultracal 30 molds of all finished character sculpts straight away. A little sawhorse table was set up in the backyard and first collected and carted all the sculpts and materials to work down to the area.

The first job was to create soft red clay beds (I bought a 25# bag so we'd have plenty) under half of the plasticine models, those that were to be molded into 2-part molds. Above, you see the small Yanu moth man sculpt being embedded.

I found that Coroplast, corrugated plastic sheeting, was the absolute best material for creating mold walls. It cut precisely with straight edge and blade, held its shape and structure like a champ, all duct tape and clay of both kinds came away from its surface easily, and the strips were totally reusable! I'm spoiled by using this stuff for mold walls from now on.
Deborah is an extremely sensitive and thoughtful person and made it very easy to share a house with. (I call her Ms. White because every morning I'd break 2 eggs and cook her up the whites and then using the same bowl and pan cook myself up the yolks.) She and I had plenty of time to share our art, watch and closely analyze key dvd's in my stop mo library. We especially gained value from watching Ron Cole's masterpiece, In the Fall of Gravity and Mike Adair's detail rich disk on the making of his short, Becca and the Bear.
It was very exciting for me to finally have these puppet characters transitioned from sculpts to molds ready to cast in paper. Having the puppets this much closer to being realized is a huge thrill. I never would have been able to get through this enormous bulk of work alone. Having someone like Deborah here to go through each step with me, asking me questions, helping in every way made all the difference in the world. Sure, everything can be done alone. But does it get done? Not without another person being there it doesn't. Maybe in 40 years.

Getting the above molds poured and made, pulled apart, cleaned up, etc. took nearly 40 hours of intense work. I can't properly thank Ms. George for her coming to Halfland Camp except to say, COME AGAIN!!!!! For every bit of info I was able to share with Deborah, she gave back a trick and tip that was of equal value. She didn't come here as a blank slate. She came with a rich background of experience in art and art instruction. I learned as much, if not more, from her.
A note regarding safety: You see me looking at you, reader? See how serious I look? Here's why; I LOVE mold making. I love everything about it, the process, the technique, the materials, the results, and what can be done with them. However, it is incredibly important to point out something about the molding compounds used.

While the powders themselves are not "toxic" it must be noted that the dust should never get close to being breathed. That the activated (wet) powder should never come into contact with your eyes, skin, or food, etc. It isn't enough to use it out of doors. You MUST wear a proper respirator, full or halfmask, proper gloves on both hands, I used 2 pair of Nitrile and then a long cuff rubber gloves on top to stir with, you must wear eye protection. And it would be a good idea to also wear a head cover to keep the dust out of your hair for easier washing after the session and long pants and supportive shoes, long sleeves, etc. Next session I plan to also wear a nice paper painters suit on top of my clothes so I can remove it and put it in a plastic storage bag before reentering the house.

Ultracal 30 and Hydrocal White, and other creative powders like them, become as alkaline as drain cleaner when activated. There is the very real danger of giving any tissue in contact with it irreversible chemical burns. (Easy to access MSDS safety info on all products here).

I'd probable take most of these safety steps with simple plaster of paris too, minus the skin protection, because breathing almost any particulate is best avoided. Got it?
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