The Arcane Dragonry

21st December 2016

A new beginning

If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I’ve been working on another project as I worked on the last stages on Anachromie. This other project is a red dragon called Odrajux. Now, this is a figure of renown from Abeir-Toril (my homeland). He existed long before my time so I never met him, but it’s written that he was vicious and feral when young. When he became large enough, he took off to never return. We know of him from the tales of terror from the north, where apparently he became the scourge of (mostly) human villages for centuries. He was eventually defeated in an epic battle by a large group of seasoned mercenaries. However, he became a legend that’s been immortalised in books and still lives in folklore up to this day. Now, since I haven’t really posted any progress on Odrajux, this is going to be a long post. You’ve been warned!

Somebody asked me a while back to explain a bit better how exactly I make the teeth, so this time around I remembered to take a picture with all of the steps on it. First, I make a roll of Fimo. Secondly, I cut it in different lengths. After that, I roll out the ends until they’re pointy and cut it in half. That makes two teeth. Then, I just round the cut edge and they’re ready to bake! The trick to make white Fimo look like aged bone, is giving it a coat of Bitumen of Judea thinned down with turpentine. I don’t recommend using white spirits or any other turpentine substitute. I know it would be much cheaper, but I find that it somehow messes up the distribution of the pigment and also dries to be a bit sticky to the touch. See the picture below with all of the steps mentioned:

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Easy, right? Right. Feel free to ask any questions if you do have them! Anyway. Odrajux was quite the horned dragon. And so I had to make quite a few horns and spikes. I hope it’ll be enough! I also made enough teeth for next time. I wanted to make his mouth VERY menacing, so I used very long and sharp teeth glued close together. Down below you can see the layout before I glued them in.

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Now, I’m sorry I forgot to take pictures between those two steps. Sometimes I get sooo into it, I forget to do things! Also, my work space was turned into a makeshift photography studio for two days in order to take “proper” pictures of Anachromie… which was a nightmare, but I already complained about that on the last post, so I won’t elaborate. To make these jaws I used the same technique as usual (which I’ve wrongly failed to mention in the past) has been defined by the great artist Dan Reeder and it’s one of his most wonderful additions to the “cloth mache” world. He is a great person, as well as a great artist, and as I mentioned while making Kaltakess, he’s been my inspiration to make these trophies. I highly recommend his book “Paper Mache Dragons” (which I proudly own). There, he explains how to make dragons in a lot more detail than I provide, and much of the initial process you see here on my website like hollowing paper mache shapes, attaching the piece to a wooden shield, making the jaws and creating skin/scales with cloth, have been taken from this book. For now, I am bound to make head trophies due to space restrictions, but hopefully that will change in the future. I can’t wait to try and make full-bodied dragons!

Anyway, to summarise, to make the mouth, I hot glued the teeth to the paper mache pieces. Then, I used small strips of plain cotton dipped in PVA glue to “hug” each tooth tightly, and laid out the inside loosely with a large piece of gluey fabric (is that even word?!). I must admit, lately I’ve been using an awful lot of super glue. If you look closely,  you will notice that the cloth that goes inside of the mouth pieces is folded on most of the ends. I don’t just lay it on top the “gums”, I’ve found that I quite like the folded look better. It makes for a more natural transition between all those dozens of different pieces of fabric (that are folded as well). The trick to make it look so good, is to use a drop of super glue on each of the “sockets” between the teeth. I’m sorry I didn’t illustrate this process better. I will try my best to remember next time.

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To make the tongue, I just shaped some brown paper until it had the shape I wanted, and secured it with some masking tape. Then, to give it texture, I just paper-mache’d some upside-down pieces of kitchen roll that have little bumps that resemble a real tongue quite well. Sounds strange, I know, but check the picture below to see what I mean. Does it not look good?

For the paint, I used a dark tone of red and umber for the tongue, and a mix of red, purple and a lot of light grey. Adding grey to a colour is an easy way of making the colour a lot less saturated and more natural-looking, so you don’t have to paint-wash it too much later to make it look better. Once dried, I gave everything (including the teeth) a black wash with Bitumen of Judea in different concentrations to highlight or darken areas. After this, I simply gave everything a glossy varnish finish (two coats on the tongue to make it extra shiny). Gloss is the cheap, modest way to make something look wet. To accentuate this, what I do is using a brush with long bristles. I dip it in water and then dip it in a glossy sealer (Mod Podge in this case), and apply it in a chaotic fashion while the brush is in a very low angle, so there’s a lot of friction with the surface. Because the texture is irregular and full of folds, it makes the watery sealer bubbly, and guess what? The bubbles don’t go away. Instead, they dry as they are, so it looks like saliva. Also, the parts that have a bit more glue dry up to be a bit whitish, which also resembles saliva. I know it’s not very noticeable in the picture, but trust me, it works and it’s visible. For me, this is wet enough. If you want to make your dragon’s mouth VERY wet and drooly, you could just use clear liquid resin/epoxy. I’ve been thinking about using this on Odrajux, since he’s so vicious and scary, but we will see. I don’t particularly like drooly things or beings in general. I find them almost revolting.

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Didn’t I warn you? It was going to be a long one. It may not look like much, but making the mouth of a dragon trophy head is about 1/4 – 1/5  or so of the total progress, so what you see here is about a week’s worth of work. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it. I’ll keep you posted!

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18th December 2016

Anachromie

Whew! Anachromie is finished! I’m posting the final pictures of her below and she’s up for sale in the gallery now! Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much since the last post. The only thing left to do was grooming the beard, nothing special. I’m no hairdresser, so I just followed some simple tutorials on how to reduce hair volume and that’s it. Now, taking the final pictures and fixing them took me almost two full days of work. If you’re a photographer, you will know how tough it can be to photograph something that’s shiny AND metallic. Even the best shots had to be edited and “frankensteined” together so you could appreciate all details without weird glares and burns. But anyway, it’s done! Anachromie proved to be quite an interesting experience. I experimented with quite a few things: a whole lot of air-dry clay mixes, silicon moulds, the dewlap, adding hair… I learned a lot and it was lots of fun. For those of you who follow me, I hope you’re pleased with the result too, and please spread the word! I want her to go to a good home. Thank you all, I’ll soon tell you about the other project I’m working on now.

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9th December 2016

Oooo! Shiny!

THE BEARD IS DONE! My brain started to hurt from thinking about how to proceed with the beard for so long. I really couldn’t find a solution that would work and look good at the same time. But I did in the end and I bring you proof! Prepare yourself, because this is a picture-heavy post. But before showing you the beard, here you have a picture of Anachromie with another layer of paint. It’s still not finished and it needs black washing, but that will have to wait til tomorrow.

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So, remember how I prepared the white wig? You can find it on this post if you missed it. What I did was cut off half of the seam line. I could do this safely only because I literally bathed the whole seam on PVA glue, otherwise the hairs would just fall off. I did this so the beard would look as natural as possible, with a smooth and seamless transition between skin/scales and beard. Tough stuff though.

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Once the hot glue gun was good to go, I calculated where the middle point of the beard would be, then I started gluing the hair strands to the chin in a spiral.

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I put extra glue in the crevices of the chin so it would be a bit smoother. The trick is to dip your finger in cold water, and while the glue is still hot, press it down and shape it to your convenience. I kept on gluing hair in a spiral until I was done. I used a length of about 70cm in total (not the length of the hair itself, I mean the strips).

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As you can see above, the result was a very nice full beard. But now I had to deal with that unsightly hot glue. And of course, you can’t just paint it because acrylics don’t stick to it that well and it looks awful in any case. I needed something that would blend into both the skin/scales AND the beard. So I decided to experiment with something quite unconventional that I had never used on any piece of art: surgical tape! This stuff. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically a very thin paper-like tape that’s very flexible, porous and you just put on your skin when you want to avoid an infection on a wound. The thing with this tape is that the glue is extremely sticky and sort of waterproof (it doesn’t fall off your skin even after a shower). And since it’s so thin and paper-like, I thought it would be a good thing to use. After covering the seams and all of the hot glue, I added a few layers of tissue paper. I made it really damp to the point that it broke apart, and smudged it into the strands of beard hair.

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It didn’t take too long to dry. I painted the whole thing ochre and then dry-brushed both skin and beard with raw umber until it looked natural. The transition doesn’t look as smooth as I would like (the tissue paper is a bit too wrinkly compared to the smoothness of the cotton fabric), but it’s acceptable. Now I just need to black wash it and it will be ready! I’d love to hear opinions on the beard. Find me on Facebook or Twitter and let me know, or just leave a comment of course.

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9th December 2016

Houston…

So, last night I was giving Anachromie her first coat of paint, when a not-so-unexpected problem happened. In case you don’t know or remember, the eyes for this dragon were drawn and painted by hand with markers (it’s all explained with pictures in this post). Even though they were proper markers, As soon as the water penetrated the fabric while painting with acrylics, the ink raaaan wild! Well, maybe not that wild, but it did run. So basically, I had to perform eye surgery after the paint dried to remove the eyes and replace them.

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The new eyes look sooo much better than the old ones, I’m actually glad that they got messed up. Now, to prevent the same tragedy from striking again, I laminated the paper with plastic, glued it to the cabochons (glass domes) and sealed the sides used something that I very rarely use but that proved great for the task. I’m talking about Mod Podge’s Dimensional Magic. It’s a thick liquid that dries up to look like glass, pretty much like liquid clear resin. I think some clear nail polish could have done the job as well… maybe. I need to test that. But anyway! The eyes are now fixed and look fantastic!

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29th November 2016

The ravens of unresting thought

Yay! The time has come to test the silicon mould and the clay mix. First of all, I dampen the surface with water and glue. In my experience, doing this prevents the excessive drying of the clay on one side, and thus, chances of cracking will be very low. The layers cloth and newspaper absorb A LOT of moisture very quickly, it happens when painting with acrylics too. Also, I had to do it because I needed to smear the clay into the cloth around the borders so it blended well into the cloth area, instead of looking like a chunk of something smooth on top of something different, if you know what I mean.

I added the clay onto the forehead first, then the left side and then the right. After that I went ahead and tried the silicon mould. I gently placed it over the areas and pressed down firmly. I had to do some manual adjustments and fixes, as the “joints” were very obvious, and some parts didn’t take the texture because I didn’t press enough, but that didn’t take me long. Here are pictures of the process:

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5th November 2016

Taking the dragon by the horns

This morning the postman dropped off a rather large junkmail flyer. When I picked it up, that feeling of thin, rough paper inspired me to start working on the back plates. As I said I would do last time, I covered all of them with paper mache. Notice in the pictures how I added the top plate that goes over the forehead. I made that with air-dry clay. The surface smooth as it could be, but I still gave it a layer of paper mache to match all of the surfaces. Once dry, I confirmed it was just what it needed!

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Now, regarding the face… Gosh. The face. It is fixed now. Not that I’m 100% happy with it, but I think it’s decent enough. I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures of the process to modify the shape, but I’ll explain. Basically, what I did was dampen the whole mouth over night by covering it with wet towels. In the morning, all of the materials were soft and moldable, so I stretched the mouth open by putting a long wooden stick inside, and then warped the shape of both jaws into a more natural way by putting strong rubber bands in different places of the mouth. I cut a few pieces of 3mm steel wire and shaped them to size so it wouldn’t deform in places I didn’t want it to. Think of those as braces. Then of course, I let it dry up, and to my surprise, it looked good! I wasn’t sure it would work at all, but it did. I don’t have exact pictures to show you a before/after, but you have to trust me, it was awful before.

Something I realised once it was dry, was that the lips were too full. I filled them up with bits of cloth (as I normally do) to make them look a bit fuller, but in this case it didn’t look right… it just didn’t. This dragon is smooth and sleek, and it needed flatter lips. So well, instead of dampen up the nose to fix it, I made all of the face wet again and ripped off both the nose and the lips. I cut, refolded and reshaped everything until it looked alright and then I let it air. Check the results below… what do you think?

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2nd November 2016

Trial and error

Experiments. This particular dragon is a big experiment on its own, which is very exciting actually. As you can see, I added the skin with cloth mache (cloth dipped in PVA glue). I must say though, if the face was looking derpy before adding the skin, now it’s like twice as bad. The nose is hideous, but the lips are twice as bad… I definitely need to do something about them. Anyway, I decided to begin working on the back plates. First, I drew where they would go with a marker. Then I just cut exactly six pieces of cardboard in slightly incremental length and width, and bent them until I was satisfied with them. I proceeded to use hot glue to secure them to the dragon, and made the top piece that goes on the forehead with air-dry clay.

While the clay dried up, I made an experimental mix of paper clay consisting of toilet tissue, water, all purpose ready-mix filler, simple flour and PVA glue. With this paste, I added some volume to the ends of each back plate and let it dry.

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I’ll tell you something… that paper clay dries hard. VERY hard. And unfortunately, very irregular as well. Even though I tried to even the surface as much as possible, in the end I decided to give it a few layers of top quality shellac-based primer/sealer to ease those imperfections.

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It helped, but not a lot. So I decided to pull out the Dremel (rotary tool) and gave it a gooooooood smoothing. In the end it looked much better, but not perfect. I think I’ll cover everything with paper mache. By the way if you noticed how Anachromie is now missing her nose and her mouth looks different… don’t worry, I’ll explain everything in the next post!

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29th October 2016

Derpy derp

So I put the mouth together, attached cheekbones, made the lower jaw’s cheeks extra puffy, glued the eyes in and topped them with eyebrows… and STILL. Still, she’s looking square, boring and derpy. Especially derpy. Anyway… I prepared the shield, drilled it and secured the neck to it, then proceeded to attach the head to it with wire, hot glue and lots of tape. I also added the chewing side muscles and made the throat look more natural.

Now, Anachromie has very large and long jowls hanging all the way to the base of the neck. To do this, I just cut a bunch of pieces of steel wire, shaped them and glued them in a way that made sense. It’s not 100% faithful to the original model, but I need to make it look nice enough and the base needs to fit within the oak shield, so there you go. I am curious to see how it will look when I cover it all with cloth! Are you too?

PD: Even after all of that, it’s still looking derpy. Gah!

 

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28th October 2016

Starting with the basics

Things happen. Sometimes they’re good things, sometimes they’re bad, but things keep on happening whether we like it or not. It’s up to us to decide how to take them. Each of us (regardless of species) is different, so we will perceive things in all sorts of diverse ways. For example, my printer has a life of its own and it decided not to work no matter what when I was trying to print the eyes for the next two dragons (yes, I have already decided what the next one will be like!). So instead of cursing and bashing it with a hammer, I grabbed some colour markers and decided to experiment!

I drew the outlines of the eyes using a 3H pencil and the cabochons (glass domes) as reference. Then I started working on the tones, from lighter to darker colours, and finally added the black slit pupil. I did the same for the other set of eyes I might be using on the next dragon, but we will see. After that, I put a blob of PVA glue on the eyes and pressed the glass against them really hard to get rid of air bubbles, then let it dry and cut them loose.

I still had teeth left over from the last batch, so I didn’t need to make new ones, but I did have to make the horns -obviously!-. Sorry I forgot to take pictures of the paper mache base pieces, but I made them the same way as usual (which I’ve shown in other posts, if you’re interested). I hollowed the pieces and cut the head open to make the jaws. The mouth in this case follows a pretty straight line… I hope it won’t look boring in the end. I made the horn cores with aluminium foil first, then conditioned the Fimo clay, wrapped it around them and shaped them properly. I baked the clay til it was ready and I decided to give it a bit of texture resembling the model (horizontal lines around the horns instead of vertical) by sanding them and making semi-deep scratches with some steel wool. To make the horns look more natural, I aged them using my beloved bitumen of Judea, thinned down with proper old school turpentine.

I must say, am NOT happy with the shape of the mouth at all. This dragon is supposed to have a very pronounced under-bite… and it does, but it makes her look insufferably derpy. We will see…

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13th August 2016

Kaltakess

Tadaaaa! These are pictures of the final product under proper lighting. As you can see, I changed my mind about the orange facial spots and I re-painted them grey. I black washed the whole thing, applied highlights with a dry brush, and gave it a thin coat of protective oil-based varnish that won’t mess up the acrylic paint. Sorry for the blurriness of some of the pictures, but you get the idea! I hope you like the results, and as usual, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on it!

 

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