Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Florence Academy of Art

So I decided to go balls to the wall and invest in a month in Florence. A month long course in the Florence Academy of Art no less. Expensive, but hopefully worth it. I'll be logging my progress here for posterity (not that he ever did anything for us *spits contemptuously on ground*).

Day 1:

KLM delayed my flight and I was stranded in Amsterdam until the next morning, meaning I was late for the first day's classes. *Facepalm* Couldn't be off to a worse start! Managed to get up at 5am to catch the rescheduled morning flight but by the time I checked in to the apartment I rented I'd already missed half a day - got some catching up to do... Jumped into a taxi as I have no idea where I am.
The class today was very basic. In the mornings we work on a life size skull and the afternoons we work on a half lifesize figure. As I arrived after lunch I missed the skull bit so went straight into the figure. It's just understanding the pelvis and blocking that in using the "box and the egg" method, which we did twice (for the practise).

One pelvic box. See if you can spot it.

Day 2:

Got my times wrong and was an hour late today. Must figure out where the damn bus leaves from near me as I had to take another taxi to get here. Finally got to start on the skull. We're being taught an unusual technique in that we are strictly looking at the profile and sculpting that. Once that's done the front is approached the same way. Not the way I'd usually model anything but this is about training your eye and I'm up for whatevs. (God I'm so easy!)

One skull. Lifesize. Or should that be deadsize?

Skull profile - needs a bit more work

On to the afternoon and back to doing boxes for pelvises only this time we also did an egg for the chest cavity.

One egg - atop a box. I know what you're thinking - what's left to do, right? Tune in tomorrow for updates.

Actually... We started the final pose today too. This is the one we will spend the next three weeks working on. I can't show the actual male model for obvious reasons - spoiler alert being chief amongst them.

Quite the dandy, eh? The arm pose is temporary though

Day 3:

So today we did more work on the skull and figure. I totally forgot to take a photo of the skull progress so just imagine a pretty crappy one (something I could only improve on would be nice - so when you see the real thing you'll be pleasantly surprised).
The figure was a continuation from yesterday and as promised, the pose changed (at the request of class members, don't ask me how I intuitively knew it would).

Looks weird right now, right? Well wait'll you see the mess I make of it tomorrow!
I mostly worked from this angle today. Dead chuffed with myself that there are no ass jokes. Butt maybe I should add one..?

Day 4:

So I can't believe how quickly the days are disappearing... This morning was more work on the skull which I later discovered we'll be destroying after we finish it tomorrow... Bummer!

Just 4 more hours to go before he gets torn apart... Gotta feel for him!

After that we went back to the figure. Apparently at this stage we did have worked on the box, the egg and the standing leg... So, emm.... I may have rushed this bit a tad. I'm sure I'll regret that decision.

Oh, and here's a few photos of the academy!

Oh look, it's possible to upload crappy dark photos too...

The Bargue technique for drawing figures

Day 5:

So today was our last day on the skulls. We'll start on our portraits on Monday and unfortunately that means breaking apart the skulls to use the same armature again. Now, obviously, the idea of cracking open a few skulls has always appealed to me previously, but this time it's different. This time it's my own. I mean, as it were... As in, not literally.. but also... literally. This is how far I managed to take it in a week of morning classes.

"No, you're the numbskull!"

What do you call a queue of skulls? No seriously, I'm asking because I don't know...

Ever wondered what a small Asian girl with a broken zygomatic arch looks like? Wonder no more!

I hadn't the heart to break it apart as I might come in at the weekend to finish it off. The fact it's going to get destroyed make that a little less likely though...

Anyway, on to the afternoon! Back to the figure... It's surprising how disappointed you get with the previous day's work when you take off the plastic packing... This was a day like any other in that I visibly sagged when I saw it again. So much to do!
After hacking away at it again for the afternoon this is where I left it.

I know what you're thinking... But no, the dude did actually have arms and a head, I just haven't got that far yet. Waist and below only people, waist and below.

More below the waist

Looking weird thanks to an untouched upper body. 

We still have two weeks to finish the body so I'm still on track right now. Can't wait to start the portrait on Monday!

Day 6:

Portrait day! So the models came in and I saw a guy called Rony from Venezuela with a thick beard and pleats in his hair and immediately asked if he could be our model. Luckily, they said yes. I haven't got a photo of him here, you'll have to wait for that, but here's my progress so far after the 3 hours morning work. And remember, no actual measurement is allowed, we have to purely sculpt by eye. The technique is the same as before, sculpt the profile before moving on to the front.

In the afternoon we went back to the figure. Today I started working a bit on the torso, getting the widths, etc. So another 9 sessions of 3 hours each, so not quite half way there yet. It's looking like I'll have something done by then, which is encouraging.

Isn't it amazing what a fuzzy lens will do?

Day 7:

So it was the second day of the portrait this morning. Feel like I made some solid progress. Again, no measuring allowed.

Early progress plus a photo of the reference model.

After the 3 hours this is where I left it - pretty happy with the mornings work, I feel like I can get the likeness anyway. (Famous last words, right?). I'd show the front view only there's nothing to show... It's about half an inch thick at this stage.

So on to the afternoon session with the figure. Wasn't AS happy with this one... Am struggling with some proportions here. Apparently the rule is if you think your morning went well, your afternoon will probably suck. And vice versa. These things I'm learning also, despite not being on the curriculum.

A VERY temporary head put on to help me judge proportions

No, no, honestly, he's NOT sticking his middle finger up at you.... Yet.

Yeah, suspect that head will be the first thing to get the chop tomorrow afternoon....

Day 8:

So back to the portrait. Have done quite a bit on the side note so towards the end of the 3 hours I started on the front, using the landmarks on the side as guides.

Still a very narrow head...  But we have 7 days to go so I'm not too worried right now.

As usual, back to the half size figure for the afternoon. I ended up keeping the head and working into it a bit, but it still needs a lot of work! Proportions in general still feel a bit off, need to look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.

The obligatory butt shot - for the ladies. You know who you are!

For those curious enough, I suspect he's a shower not a grower.

As I said, the head needs a lot of work...

Day 9:

Back to the portrait. This morning was about finding the width of the face from the front and adjusting the sides to match. It's a slow process as you're constantly changing from front to side view. Am reasonably happy with this portrait in general though, I haven't lost the likeness yet!

Another 6 sessions left on this.

In the afternoon it was back to the figure. I was still troubled by the upper torso length so I lowered his shoulders somewhat and am a lot happier with it. Other than just small fixes were made and a little more work on his face. To be honest, people are saying I'm a little ahead of where I'm expected to be at this stage but I could borrow for weeks on the finish so I'm happy to have another 6 X 3 hours sessions on it.

No work done on his hands yet because... you know - hands!

Day 10:

So the half way mark on the course. Can't believe there just one week of sculpting left and then a week of casting. The portrait is coming along well, images here:

The pleats are going to be a problem... 

In the afternoon when I got back to the figure it was pointed out to me by one of the instructors that his left arm was a little long, so that was corrected today. Other than that just some more noodling with the figure. I have a week left for that and am gonna need it all. Lots of details on hands and feet to be resolved as well as general cleanup.

Now with shorter arm...

Day 11:

So just 4 more days after today... Can't believe the time has gone so quickly! Obviously you get more done in the initial stages and as you get closer to the finish on any given sculpture the progress is slower as it's just tweaks being made rather than large scale changes.

Just small tweaks to the eyes and the lips made bigger. Also some work on his nasolabial folds and ears.

A start on the hair. Rony has long braids but I think I'll avoid doing them to make casting simpler but also because this is about a likeness, not the technicalities of doing braids.

For the afternoon it was back to the figure. Just 4 days left on this. Apparently during the course they normally run here the students get 5 weeks in total rather than the 3 we are getting. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the excuse I'm giving for the state of the hands so far...

Day 12:

Very little to say. Mostly just small, probably imperceptible tweaks.

Day 13:

So only two days left sculpting now! Ouch... I can feel reality slowly but surely coming to her senses and getting ready to kick me up the arse...
On the advice of one of the instructors I decide to totally redo the beard and hair for the portrait. I think it's better like this, less distracting and the focus is more on the face than the beard now. Much better! Needs work, but then it was a total redo... You don't get much done in 3 hours.

In the afternoon it was back to the figure. I had made the rookie mistake of smoothing out my model the day before and it just looked awful. So I started adding some texture back in to him today as well as working on his hair and feet. I realised his balancing leg has the knee too low so I've started fixing that here too. More to do tomorrow to finish that fix and see what else needs doing. Should hopefully still have it finished in the remaining 2 sessions.

Day 14:

Just one day left sculpting before a week of making moulds... Sucks big time! Was really enjoying the sculpting and am sad to see it all over so soon.

As you can see I've totally changed the beard and some of the hair. This is much more of a classical sculpture style, the idea being to remove distracting contrast from deeper shadow values, and reduce visual interest away from the main point of interest, i.e the face. The overall effect is of a softer beard so I guess it works!

For the figure today was back to Tweaksville, population: me. I mostly resculpted the hand behind his back and made some other minor changes. Once the clay has hardened enough I'll spend my last day tomorrow working into that hand.

One crappy hand, with impossibly-hard-to-work wet clay.

Last day sculpting tomorrow - you're allowed feel sorry for me!

Day 15:

Last day of sculpting. All next week will be casting, so today was the day we made our final tweaks and said goodbye to the sculpting tools. I took a photo of all 3 final pieces I made during these 15 days, which you can see here.

Hope you like them... I had a blast making them anyway!

Last week:
So for the last week we've been creating the moulds so we can create casts of our sculptures. It's been fascinating. There is a kind of silicon they use here which is almost a chewing gum consistency with is spread on piece by piece. The first layer is quite thin to capture the detail. Then two more layers are added which are thicker.

Once all the layers are on, the walls are put on. In this case they preprepared some silicon to use as walls to expedite the process, which works really well. These were adhered to the tacky three layers applied previously by using some sticky silicon to glue them on.

After this the plaster was ready to be put on too. This was reinforced with layers of burlap (2 overlapping layers applied twice). Vaseline was used to prevent the plaster of the second half of the mould from sticking to the first side.

Some marks made where the registration points were so when bolts are drilled through it at the end they don't overlap.

Once done, zinc bars are added also, and stuck on using more burlap. These provide extra support as we are not using a lot of plaster (saves on weight and bulk).

At this stage we were ready to cut through the walls and divide up our moulds so we could take off the plaster and silicon and feast on the goo inside... I mean, remove the clay inside.
Once this was done we made a quick slipcast of plaster to reinforce the silicon from the inside during shipping, and also to help clean out any remaining clay. This is literally a few millimetres thick. After that we were done! All that's left is to do the actual cast once the pieces arrive in Ireland. Shipping cost was €158 for the moulds of the 3 foot tall figure, the portrait and a clay lifesize skull (hollowed out).

As a last little inside glimpse of the academy, here are a couple of shots of the moulding taking place.

Final casting:

When casting the figure in plaster I will be creating an insert at the top of the legs for the torso to slot into. Then I'll be putting in some steel rods between the ankle and knees, securing them in place with more burlap for strength. I'll be putting the two together, and then drilling some holes in the torso in order to pin them into place with some wooden dowels or thin sticks to prevent them moving, before drilling more holes in the torso (higher up) to syringe plaster inside to seal the two together from the inside. After that I'll apply plaster to the holes to fill them in and call it done.

For the head I'll be using a metal bar which I'll plaster to the inside of the head with some burlap and insert the other end into a plaster base which I'll make separately.


Hope you enjoyed the blog and learned something along the way. I certainly did and would highly recommend the Florence Academy for anyone wanting to improve their sculpting skills. It's been an amazing month. I'd love to come back for a drawing or painting course, but it is hugely expensive so I might be done here unfortunately... But one more ticked off the bucket list I suppose. Can't complain!

For anyone interested in attending, you can check out their website here:

Check out the gallery to see the quality of work produced there.