I'm back this Sunday to talk about my experiments in soft sculpture, the method which I'm using to build up the bodies of Kai and Nausicaa. My inspiration for this came from the amazing artist Lisa Lichtenfels, who I talked about in an earlier post. You can read about that here.
The basic idea is building up layer after layer of a very fine wadding to create a 3D shape. The sections of wadding are based on the muscles of the puppets. These are pinned to the armature's sewable yarn base and an initial layer is sewn on. It's a process that takes a very long time, and requires a lot of patience, but I've been making strides with it!
In this post I'm going to focus on my progress with Nausicaa. Next week we'll take a look at Kai.
First of all I wrapped her armature tightly in a white yarn. The fingers and toes were wrapped in white thread too. This creates a sewable base for the wadding to be built up onto.
Next I cut some upholstery foam to shape in the gap between Nausicaa's ribcage and pelvis. This is the best material for creating a nice flexible stomach when she leans over. I glued this in place with UHU glue.
The wadding I'm using is Thermore ultra thin quilted clothing batting. It's just a couple of mm thick and doesn't pile at all, so is perfect for building up a body of this scale. I started off by just sewing an inital layer over the body core and the feet. In this photo I also gave the hands a base and started to build up the knee bones. The bone shapes are sewn in felt because it's thicker than the wadding and nice and dense. By viewing the armature as the 'skeleton' of the puppet and working from the inside out like this, I should get a better looking muscle build up later.
I had to be extra-careful when sewing around the fingers, which are really teeny tiny!
The cast skull was attached to the armature before I went any further with the build up process. Having her head on would definitely help with keeping things in scale later.
In this photo I'm starting to build up the muscles on Nausicaa's legs. I have two diagrams of reference based on my initial scale drawings, one of the front of her body and one of the back. The red half is a more acurate rendering, the blue side is a simplified version. Using these as a reference I make pattern pieces, cut them out, pin them to the armature and sew them on.
After a whole day of building up the body, very little had changed from face value! It takes a while for recognisable shapes to form, but building up in layers is completely necessary for the structure of the body to be solid. The body looks dishearteningly strange at the beginning of the process for this reason, but you just have to trust that it will evolve!
Using steel wire, I gave her a collarbone and some shoulder blades.
Precise pinning and careful sewing are crucial - the wadding must lie as flat and seamlessly as possible on the puppet.
After just three full days of sewing, Nausicaa is certainly starting to take shape. My week ahead will be entirely dedicated to finishing her body build up, so keep your eyes out on my Instagram account for daily progress photos!