I’ve been working on a top secret project for the past few weeks and I think it’s finally time to reveal what I’ve been doing. Before I get into that though, I have to first talk about kimono.
The kimono (Japan’s traditional garment) is something that I’ve always adored – the patterns and embroidery work is so intricate and beautiful – it is like wearable art. It is also an art to wear it right, at the right time.
In Japan, different types of kimono are worn to specific occasions and the sleeve length and patterns can reflect your age, marital status and even the season. It is considered a serious faux pas to wear the wrong kimono to the wrong occasion. Thanks to my mother, I’ve always been able to wear and admire them because she owns a lot of them at home.
I also happen to love drawing kimono. I started drawing a series of cats in different types of kimono at various occasions, to show the types of kimono that are worn to specific Japanese events. That was all good and all but what I really wanted to do was showcase them in a way that was easier for the viewer to see the sometimes subtle differences between the kimono types…and then I stumbled across an amazing artist who sculpts maquette figures with Super Sculpey.
When I saw her work, I was mesmerised. I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling that this was what I was supposed to do, like, right now. I needed to make my characters 3D! So I assembled all of the tools I was going to need as quickly as I could (it took two weeks) and then I got stuck right into it. Here is Part One of how I made my first Kimono Cat called Tama.
Please note that this is my first time sculpting so, you know, go easy on me. We’ve all got to start somewhere!
First off I needed to make my cat’s armature, which is like the skeleton/base for the body. I wanted my cat to be about 15 – 20 cm tall so I roughly measured the aluminium wire against my original drawing and then twisted the wire into shape using pliers and my fingers. As you can see from the photo, it didn’t end so well.
I scrapped the first one and tried a second time. This one went much better! I left the wires longer than they needed to be, so I could snip them to the proper length later. I didn’t have any wooden base or vice handy so I made a makeshift stand out of an Amazon box. Kiwi ingenuity right there, guys.
Next, I mixed some white Apoxie Sculpt together and squished it around the torso to stabilise the whole structure and make sure nothing wobbled around anymore. I left it overnight and it was hard as a rock the next day – magic!
Now it was time to bulk up the structure with aluminium foil. I’d heard from various sources that it was best to bulk it up as much as possible, so that is what I tried. I wasn’t sure if I should make the sleeves with foil but I did it anyway for the time being.
Finally, it was time to start using some Super Sculpey! I blocked out the main shape of the cat, trying not to put too much clay on all at once. If the clay is too thick when you bake it, there’s a higher chance of it cracking or not curing right through – 12mm is the limit, according to the box. So I obeyed.
As I finished blocking out the main shape, I realised that having the foil and wire under the sleeves would be a bad idea. I wanted the sleeves to ‘flow’ and fold almost like natural sleeves and having it bulked up with foil underneath was just not going to work, so I took it all off and left spaghetti arms in its wake.
The Super Sculpey Firm was really easy to use and I had fun testing out my new sculpting tools. The only annoying thing was that no matter how many times I smoothed surfaces over, I would get finger smudges or nail marks in the clay. So after getting the main details of the face and tail I decided to bake it, just to ‘set things in stone’, as it were.
Since my cat was not set in a wooden base, I needed to find something that would keep the sculpture upright in the oven. I borrowed a nice sturdy mug from our communal kitchen (I live in a student house) and I hoped no one would miss it. I stuffed the mug with foil and stuck our heroine in. Ta-da!
Now it was time to bake. I’d read on all sorts of sources that the first thing you’ve got to do is ignore the baking instructions on the box which is: bake for 15 minutes per 6mm of thickness. Hm, okay. Consider that ignored.
The majority of people said that 15 minutes was definitely not long enough – some baked for half an hour, some even baked for more than two hours at a time. A lot of them said that baking times differed depending on your oven and whether it could maintain the same temperature for long periods of time.
Since I knew that my cat’s torso and head had some thicker parts of clay, I decided I would bake it for an hour at 130 degrees Celsius, just to be safe. The above photo is an after-oven shot. She came out safe and crack-free with all detail still intact. Brilliant!
Now I could work on the arms and details on the face (like eyelids) without the fear that I would smudge and ruin what I’d already done. Super Sculpey can be baked multiple times, so I put Tama in the oven again so the arms and other details I’d just finished could cure. I think I baked her for about 35 – 45 minutes the second time.
Tama came out safe and sound, except for a tiny hairline crack or two, which wasn’t so major. Now that her body was done I could get to the really juicy part – making the yukata (a type of kimono). This proved to be trickier than I initially thought, though.
The first yukata I draped and moulded onto her was too thick, so I tore that off (2 or 3 hours work) and started again. The second time I wasn’t happy with it, so I tore all of that (3 hours) work off and started again. By the third time I figured out that I had to make the strips of clay really, really thin so that it would fold and flow like real sleeves would. But being so thin meant that it was really delicate to handle and it ripped more than once.
Humph, so frustrating! And then there was the obi which just wouldn’t look right no matter what I did. It was pretty disheartening at times when I had to rip three or more hours of work off and start from scratch again. But then I thought that even if I didn’t like it at that moment, I could always add more or change things with Apoxie Sculpt after baking.
And here is Tama in her yukata-like thing. I was 80% happy with it but there was no way in heck I was going to rip it all off again, so it was off to the oven for the third time. The yukata clay was really thin, so I figured around 30 minutes in the oven would do the trick. I also put foil around her ears and tail to keep them from getting burnt or discoloured (I wasn’t sure if this would actually happen, but just to be on the safe side).
And yes, she does in fact look like a cat in witch robes getting foils at the hairdresser’s. It was just the look I was going for…
So, did you enjoy Part One of The Making of Tama?
Will she come out of the oven fine for the third time? Click below to find out!