Star Wars Comps for Concept

Earlier this year for a class assignment with Armand Baltazar at the Animation Collaborative, we had an assignment to come up with a scene or concept that currently does not exist in a movie. One of my all time favorite movies is, of course, Star Wars, the original trilogy, but most especially "The Empire Strikes Back", where we meet Darth Sidious, "The Emperor", for the first time. 

Up until that point, we feel that Darth Vader is the most powerful guy in the universe, even though we are conscious that he is definitely working for someone. When we meet The Emperor, he seems to be parallel to Master Yoda in power but belongs to the Sith and rules the Empire. However, I had always thought that since Darth Vader has unusual power, the Emperor, being a completely corrupt man, would perhaps have some other way of gaining force power than just by being himself. In addition to that, he must have been extremely peeved when Vader let Luke get away. 

I imagined that in between "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi", Darth Sidious brings Vader into his private chambers where he keeps a gigantic symbiotic parasite that he uses to not only control Vader, but also torture him and secretly extract force energy from him.

Here are a few concepts. I will bring one of these to full color soon, hopefully in the new year!

Additionally, I sculpted a bust and draped some cloth over him to create a nice working model of the Emperor's face. I've wanted to do a portrait painting of the man, and this will be very helpful for lighting. 

Studying the Loacoon, Plein Air Sculpting

On Thursday nights I sculpt with a group of friends who are passionate about studying the figure and sculpting. Recently, when we set up our model, Jennings, we decided that the poses he was gravitating toward reminded us of "The Loacoon". We decided to go with it and have our fabulous model take the pose of the famous sculpture.

If you are unfamiliar with this sculpture, there is a wealth of information for you to learn about this incredible example of sculpting history. My brief summary is as follows:

The Laocoon comes from the Hellenistic Era, about 50 BC, when Greek sculpture evolved from a rational and classic art into a passionate and emotional expression whilst still retaining the idealization of the human figure. 

The group depicts a scene described in Virgil’s Aenid. The Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons are set upon by serpents at Poseidon's command as punishment for Laocoon warning the Trojans against the wooden horse. Three sculptors are credited by Pliny to have sculpted the group: Hagesandros, Athanadoros and Polydoros of Rhodes.

The sculpture was lost until it was discovered on January 14, 1506 during an excavation in a vineyard of Felice Fredi at “Sette Sale” on the Esquiline hill in Rome. When the sculpture was found, the raised arm was broken off. Michelangelo believed that the missing right arm was originally bent back over the shoulder. Others believed it was more appropriate to show the right arm extendeded outwards in a heroic gesture. The Pope held an informal contest among sculptors to make replacement right arms, and the contest was judged by Raphael. The winner, in the outstretched position, was attached to the statue. In 1906 a fragment was discovered and believed to be the original arm. This arm sits on the statue today.
*summarized from Wikipedia

Pope Julius II placed The Loacoon Group in the Vatican where it still resides. Many casts were made of it subsequently and acquired by museums around the world. One of those casts sits just outside the Legion of Honor Museum, tucked away on a quiet path, making it accessible for study.


"Loacoon and His Sons", outside of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California

Our Thursday night poses are typically set up for six three hour sessions. We decided that when this pose was over, we'd take our sculptures to the real Loacoon and work from the actual sculpture for comparison.

WOW. What an education...

I found that when I sculpted my block in from the live model, I interpreted the muscles of the back VERY differently. The back muscles I sculpted from our model Jennings were anatomically correct and logical but not simplified or idealized in a way that communicates strength and agony. My block in did not communicate this essential truth of the original and was merely an unemotional study of anatomy.



Lundman_sculpting friends 2 Lundman_sculpting friends


In addition to the enlightening exercise of sculpting from life and then from the actual sculpture, I found sculpting outside to be incredibly FUN. With a few careful preparations and perhaps fingerless gloves to keep hands warm, it would be possible to sculpt other outdoor studies of other sculptures in order to learn how to interpret and idealize the form. 

Practically speaking, an artist must come prepared. Blocking in the figure ahead of time either from the live model or photographs is helpful and necessary. Once there, you can use your hands to warm up small bits of clay and add to or take away as necessary. We used our plein air painting boxes placing our studies on top of our stands. My friend Lenny used a sculpting stand called "Hercules" that he recently bought, which seemed like a great option for indoors and out.


***A note, however: although the stand is called "Hercules", it has it's limits regarding strength. The bolts at the bottom of the tripod are not strong enough to withstand heavy weights, I'm guessing over 50 pounds. However, for smaller works it is fantastic. The top has a rotating base that you place your board and sculpture on which sits upon a tripod, making it easy to transport or put away in a closet when not in use. 

After I got home from hours outdoors and defrosted my frozen fingers, I took a long look at my block in. Before we went to sculpt the original sculpture, I knew something was not working in the torso and back, but I was unsure of what. After seeing the original sculpture live, my vision became more clear and my understanding about what to aim for about the entire piece understood. A sculpture (or a drawing or painting) is not about the individual muscles but about the whole. Each area is important and can be idealized, but it makes no sense if the gesture is not working. All of those individual muscles will be meaningless if they are not working together to communicate the idea.



In addition to the gesture and over all idea of the piece, there is an enormous amount to observe and learn about how to idealize various areas of the body. It is unlikely that one particular model looked like this man. Rather, several models were used for various areas and each form made to be "the best" way to depict an area of the body. There is so much information in this one sculpture group to learn from.

I will continue to work on my study of Loacoon here and there over the next few months bringing my block in with me to study the idealized figure. This will be a long term project, taken in slowly, allowing the beautified form to seep into my consciousness a little at a time.

For drawing practice and sculpting study and reference, I may also purchase this Mask of Loacoon's head.

and also his torso:

Bowie the Greyhound

 On Thursday evenings, I attend a sculpture workshop with some friends. Usually we hire a model for figurative work. This time, however, we thought we'd tackle something different,  the greyhound of one of our favorite models.

Greyhound - model Bowie

 We set Bowie up on a sleeping mat while we sculpted. Occasionally she would get up and walk around the room or go outside for a quick run. 

While I was making the armature, I observed the incredibly graceful movements of our model. I noticed the long flowing s curves repeated throughout her form and her incredibly "springy" stride. I wanted to somehow capture that kinetic grace in the pose.

Greyhound - armature

I didn't make any gesture drawings, but instead decided to just mess with the armature until I found a pose that worked. I put a base layer of clay on the armature, adjusted it several times, and after about two sessions found a pose that had movement. I had trouble with the armature because I used aluminum wire where I should have used steel; the clay is heavy and can bend the aluminum wire. To compensate I decided to make a sturdy base at the bottom and balled up aluminum foil for the rib cage.

Greyhound - first pass gesture

Greyhound - first pass other side gesture

Eventually, our Thursday night sessions ended and our model was no longer available. I decided to take the sculpture home to work on it little by little after work.

The truth is, I am not really a sculptor. I am a two dimensional artist studying the 3rd dimension, sculpture. In the 3 years since I have been learning about sculpting with my friends each Thursday, I have found that the practice aids my understanding of depicting nature in two dimensions greatly. My mind is better able to process how form turns and how light falls on those forms far better than if I hadn't.



Greyhound - tail anatomy

Greyhound - Scurve2

My underlying interest in visual language is the idea of making something, anything feel alive to the viewer, whether it is realistic or fantasy; I want to be able create an illusion and spirit of life, the sublime. I strive to transcend technique in order to create something beautiful that reflects Nature in a visually poetic manner. It is this idea that keeps me pushing forward, wanting to learn more, improve my abilities and become increasingly skilled at how I might do this. Sculpture has helped me understand in a different way how to think about how to capturing "aliveness" of a creation. While I am certainly a lesser sculptor than others, I feel exploring this medium has helped me solidify ideas about visual illusions.

At this point, I decided to place a black board behind Bowie so that I could see more clearly the lines of her form. I started to soften the muscles and add some areas of compression along with skin folds. I came to the conclusion that although some of the sculpture might not be entirely "correct", it was my choice in serving the design at this point; I enjoyed rounding out forms and accenting areas I found the most beautiful.



My "finished" sculpture, at least as finished as I want it to be:

"Bowie", oil based clay on wood base.









s curves in motion:

While I worked on this sculpture throughout the summer, I took breaks to attend the Weekend with the Masters painting conference, which you can find in some of my previous posts, but, perhaps more interestingly, during this time I immersed myself in the work of string theorist Brian Greene, author of "The Hidden Reality". *

Aside from ideas about the shape of our questionably infinite universe, one fact about Greene's work stands out as entirely relevant to every day considerations: 

"Nothing in the laws of physics points to free will. Therefore, like time, it is a useful illusion. We are a bag of particles governed by the laws of physics.  And that’s it.”
 (from an interview with screen writer Charlie Kaufman)

 Really? Assuming Nature created these complex particles, it also created the desire for some of us to want to recreate it in art. Why? To understand it? For what purpose? Maybe meditating on Nature's beauty is somehow important in the grander scheme. It certainly is for me at least.

*You can also watch a fantastic PBS dvd series based on his book by the same name, "The Elegant Universe", which explains quantum mechanics in layman terms and is pretty enjoyable regardless (among numerous articles and speeches published all over the web).

what I'm working on lately

I have a sculpture in the works that is my very first interpretive project. By interpretive, I mean, the model posed for about three sessions, enough for me to get down his attitude and form, leaving me with enough information to listen and visualize the rhythms of the pose, connect with my instincts, my soul, and conjure up something all mine. What will I do with that block of clay his leg is resting on? What is the moment he is living in? What am I choosing to express here?

I'm thinking about these artistic choices throughout my days while at work, hoping I can do justice to this model's absolutely magnificent body, somewhere between masculine and feminine grace. In all my time of working with models, I have only found a few that inspire me to a degree that seems otherworldly. Their work somehow makes a lightning jolt connection to my visual synapses igniting instant images that seem to flow in front of my eyes like postcards or snapshots...they are there, right there. The question is, have my skills progressed enough in order to express what I see and feel? What direction should I take this, I ask myself...should he be fantasy or sheer realism?

I have a feeling my dreams will tell me. Or a few glasses of wine and some music, or perhaps a few life drawing sessions @ Lenny's group or Sadie's, or more likely, my sketchbook and warm bed.

I am also working on my blog. I have not been happy with the layout on this blog, so I'm planning to go totally custom. I have a header and footer as well as side pieces in the sketch phase, which I plan to post very soon as a work in progress.

When I was in art school, no one ever told me that at some point you enter into a phase where wondering what to say becomes all encompassing. Making a statement is harder than I thought. When I was 19 and in art school it seemed so easy. twenty years later making a statement, a true unabashed statement of who I am/was, is harder. Maybe it's the idea that now it 'counts'. Now I have to be real. My ideas these days about art are more complex as I gain a personal history, as we all undoubtedly do. My influences have expanded beyond what they originally were, due mainly to the community of artists I am surrounded by. I am in a state of perpetual evolution; no longer am I only a realist alla prima painter. I am something in addition to that.

Andrew Cawrse Anatomy Workshop

I just finished a week long intensive anatomy sculpting course, Andrew Cawrse's level 3 anatomy workshop, Dynamic Anatomy. Because the classes are relatively new, I thought I might report about the class in case anyone out there is interested in learning about dynamic anatomy, whether the knowledge is applied digitally or traditionally.

On the first day we set up the model, Cason, in a kneeling pose. We quickly gestured in his form on a small armature as best we could. After a few hours of this, Andrew asked us to take our gestures off the sculpting stands and set them aside for later use at the end of the week. I thought this was a great idea and feel very happy to have gone through the exercise, although in entering the class I was not aware that we needed at this point to purchase a second, bigger armature and would have liked to know that before hand so as to be mentally prepared for the additional cost. I personally was not too miffed about this aspect since I sculpt on a weekly basis and can always use more armatures. However, I can see how others might have been a little surprised if they were new to the sculpting world. So, if you are to take Dynamic Anatomy, just know that you will need to purchase TWO armatures and probably all of the specialized tools, which end up being about $500 extra, a pretty significant cost added on to the $1500 base fee. HOWEVER, I want to emphasize here - TOTALLY worth it. (Maybe it was mentioned in the description of the class and I missed it.)

Anyway, after the first exercise, the model was posed in a standing position with a leg up on a box to show bending of the knee, a twist in the rib cage and the opposite arm up high, to demonstrate motion in the arm, rib cage and hips. We then spent the afternoon and the morning of the second day sculpting out and measuring the general proportions of the figure as best we could, which is MUCH faster than what I am used to! However, this was necessary since there was so much ground to cover in anatomy lessons. On the afternoon of the second day we began the good stuff: carving out muscle groups and indicating them on the body, specifically the legs. You can see here I didn't finish.

After we tackled the boney landmarks and muscle groups of the legs, we spent a pretty significant amount of time on the third day learning about the scapulae. Andrew and his assistant, Eric -who also assists mega alpha sculptor Richard MacDonald and is an awesome sculptor in his own right- both expressed that knowing the scapula bones are extremely important in understanding how the figure works. The reason being that the bone, although attached to the clavicle, moves and shifts as the arms and rib cage move. In addition to that, a lot of complicated muscles of the back attach to these bones, causing further confusion. However, if you become intimately familiar with the shape and function of the scapulae, the rest becomes easier to understand, and helps in making a figure look far more believable. Great lesson!

We proceeded by measuring the boney points on the model with our calipers, and sculpted out the exact shape of both scaplua as best we could. This was no easy task since both were in different positions on each side!

After about an hour or so of this, with Andrew's approval, we then laid clay on top of the scapulae and drew out the musculature of the back. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of my drawn out muscles. Here is the initial stage, though.

During this portion of the class, I found it very helpful to refer to one of Andrew's reference figures, which he sculpted and sells on his site, He also had a skeleton in the class for reference that had painted landmarks indicated in red and blue to show various points of origin and insertion of muscles on the skeletal figure. Very useful!

After the back, we moved on to the hands and feet (or perhaps we did those before the back?) We learned some simple measuring tips and technique for sculpting the hands and feet, which were incredibly useful. We only spent about an hour on each, so what you see here is the best I could do while rushing to get the planes and all the anatomy in before moving on to the next subject.

Next subject was the rib cage and muscles of the torso. PIECE OF CAKE compared to the back.
The first step was to locate the top, bottom and width of the rib cage using the calipers to measure the model, Cason (who, btw, is a FANTASTIC model - awesome dancers body). Once we indicated these points on our sculpture, we then carved out the planes of the ribcage and drew in the ribs, sternum and clavicle. (pardon me if I'm spelling these wrong, btw)

Once the ribs came in, we then put in the serratus anterior muscles on top. We were very lucky to have a model that had extremely well developed serratus muscles, which he believes might have developed from being on a wrestling team. Makes sense, since these become flexed to stabilize the torso.

next came the external obliques, which attach to the serratus anterior muscles.

and after that, the pectoralis major muscles of the chest, which originate from the clavicle and rib cage and tuck in underneath the deltoids.

Here is my finished, well, half way finished, rib cage with the muscles. Behind my sculpture you can see assistant Eric's sculpture. Having Eric there was extremely beneficial to the class; we all referred to his gorgeous sculpture often to check against for errors in our own.

Next up was some time with the anatomy of the skull and neck muscles. This took place on the morning of the last day, Friday. Andrew went through the key boney points and planes of the skull. We laid in the planes and carved out the skull. Unfortunately I ran out of time and wasn't able to completely finish. Also, I took photos with my iphone. I've noticed there is a slight distortion...I swear! (The head here looks a tad too big and slightly warped)

On Thursday evening, Andrew and his assistant Eric weighed the sculptures in order to calculate how much clay we used, which was then added to the invoice and billed accordingly. Mine weighed 20 pounds.

Finally the afternoon of the last day. We spent this block of time learning how to finesse the figure, add skin and refine the details. Andrew showed us a technique of adding bits and pieces of fat between the muscles and then brushing on turpenoid to melt the clay just slightly to create smooth skin. I worked on the leg and knee:

It's still a bit too defined, but you get the gist of it:

And here is my semi finished sculpture! Yay! The great thing about this is that I can continue to work on it at home referring to charts and books. I hope to get it to a more completed state so I can continue to have a better understanding of how the anatomy works on a dynamic figure. The only unresolved issue I have after the class is where to put it in my studio living room. I don't think Andrew can help me with furniture rearrangement. My sculpt has ended up sitting on my floor next to my art desk. It would be better to have him on a sculpting stand of my own so I can continue to work on him.

All in all, I highly recommend taking Andrew Cawrse's anatomy classes. I had also intended to take the next two classes, which sounded really amazing, too: Mike Murnane's creature anatomy class and Damon Bard's character sculpting class. I think regardless of what application you are eventually using these for, it would be worth the trip, the cost, the time and effort, given that you are studying with masters in the film industry whose knowledge is based in pure traditional art education, a tradition which still struggles to stay alive.

Having said that, since this is my personal blog, I should explain that my interest in sculpting lies in a love of the craft, the beauty of the human and animal form, and very deep passion for artistic exploration. While in the class, someone asked me (and everyone else) what I wanted to do with sculpting, to which I replied with heart felt sincerity, 'nothing in particular!' After a career in illustration for animation and games, as well as a failed attempt to get a fine art painting career off the ground, I have come to a choice in how I view being an artist. That is, if I attach an expectation to where I want to eventually go with a particular skill, i.e. a GOAL or specific JOB or gallery life, I will somehow stumble on career obstacles, create a lot of frustration for myself, call into question who I am, how 'good' or 'not good' I am, and subsequently dilute the passion of whatever it is that drives me to create for MYSELF.

These days, I intentionally continue to practice the things I love in my off hours from work, without any expectation of the eventual outcome at all. I can do this partially because I already AM a working artist with a pretty stable career. So what more do I need? My personal work is just that - personal, inspired, not at all attached to money or a living, and entirely from that pure stuff within the heart that loves to create. These days, the only personal mantra I keep is: develop my passion and the rest will take care of itself. I look forward to seeing what happens, and in the mean time I am happy. Kinda like the little pink flower girl illustration below. :)

I enjoyed this reclining pose. No armature was needed underneath; it was approached like a bas relief, lay the clay down and carve out the figure. Although this is unfinished, I am happy with the progress I made. Usually by the end of two sessions, I am still fussing over minute details on the torso. This time I was able to block in a gesture of the figure, not over thinking anatomy.

I am grateful to be a part of the sculpting group. The benefits have been like a magic two way mirror; when drawing, i can see images of sculptures I've been working on, and when sculpting I envision drawings with volume.

I ran out of time and was not able to finish the hands, feet and face.
I also ran into a problem on this particular pose: bending the underlying armature in the right place. As you can see by the silver wire coming through the knee areas, I overestimated where the legs should bend. I thought I'd estimated correctly, but apparently not!

The latest sculpture from the Thursday night workshop. The first thing I think when I look at this is that he doesn't seem like he is in motion. The model, Isaac, was posed with a rope in his left hand, pulling it from the base of the model stand. My sculpture doesn't really have a sense of that dynamic within the body. I also made him too lean in some areas which is why his legs appear a bit too long.

I think I will try to concentrate on a more gestural sense of the body rather than the anatomy next time. Whatever the result, I still totally enjoy sculpting. I just adore it. :)

New Zen: Sculpting

Over the past few years, a friend's sculptures have really inspired me to try sculpting for myself. So when a spot opened up recently in his sculpting group, I jumped! Honestly, the timing couldn't have been more perfect.

I am completely new to sculpting. So far I've found it to be challenging, but in a different way than I expected, which might be obvious to others, but came as a revelation to me. In painting, I have trained my mind to see the world in flat planes so I can then paint those onto a two dimensional surface. A lot of painting involves seeing shapes, values, and hue very, very literally. It seems that in sculpting, having a knowledge of anatomy and physics is pretty much required in order to create a proportional, accurate and yet graceful interpretation of the three dimensional form.

Overall, I think the study of each craft can definitely strengthen the other. I will always be a painter in my heart, but I also love sculpting - at least so far! :)

With all of that said, here is my first sculpture! This is as much as I was able to accomplish in six sessions. Funny, too - the models' name is Mabel, which is also the name of my grandmother Koop. It's not a name you hear very much anymore.