Wednesday, February 9, 2011

We know what to do with them parts - Bringing Leatherface to life

The illustrious Wes Allen, the bearded front man of The High Gears and the perverted mind behind The Blood Sprayer, commissioned me a while back about fabricating a sculpture for him of his Horror movie hero Leatherface. He left the specifics of the design to my discretion and I eagerly accepted the challenge. Honestly I love this entire film franchise, even the remakes. It's one of my all time favorite slasher films, and presents such an iconic depiction of American horror and the nuclear family. I wanted to include a bit of all of the films within this piece, which was quite the challenge. It was also a fabulous excuse to rewatch the entire series as research. Here's some of what came out of the project.

 I started off with oven-bake modeling clay, which is easy to work with as long as you keep it moist. The clay bakes up in the oven and turns into a terra cotta solidity like a flower pot. I crafted a head shape from left over wire mesh and stuffed with paper towels.

 Here's what I would build the head shape around. I didn't want the piece to be so heavy as a solid piece, but I needed to keep a solid form with its structure. Otherwise it would take far too long to bake and I would risk residual cracks if not careful.

 I started with a basic shape to the head, sculpting the head, nose, eye sockets and the beginnings of the mouth.

I sculpted two sets of ears - one set for the head itself, and one for the design of the mask, which I'll discuss later.

I began working in the eyes and a bit more to the mouth, adding teeth and a gum line. It's important to have a bowl of water nearby for smoothing out creases and fingerprints as you go along.

 As I became more comfortable with the shape of the head I decided to focus on the support structure for the piece.

 I built up a neck and added a slight cock to the neck, which adds a bit of personality to the stillness of it all.

 Angular and distorted, the piece was starting to come to life.

  At different angles you can see the shape of the piece.

Here's everything just ready to bake!

Letting the piece dry for a couple days, I finally baked it. After pulling it, there were some residual cracks, but I knew that the wire mesh I had sculpted around would hold the piece intact. But I had a plan in place to fix this. I also pulled out the paper towels within from beforehand.

 I went over the cracks with epoxy from Home Depot. It was a two part mix and stunk something fierce (probably because of how flammable it was), but that's half the fun of playing with art. Always work in well ventilated areas, kids.

 I dusted the piece in baby powder because of the tackiness from the epoxy. This was an important precaution for the next step.

 I began to coat the piece in 12-14 coats of liquid latex, dabbing each layer on, waiting to dry, and then applying again. It was a process, but well worth it.

 I gently peeled the latex back, dusting with baby powder so as not to tear it. This is the pull of it, the underside.

 Flipping it inside out, here's what I was chasing after.

 I took a pair of cuticle scissors and snipped away the excess to create the representation I was looking for.

 I only wanted one set of ears, the closest pair to the nose, so I trimmed those away and trimmed along the neck and chin line. I began painting this mask in a blend of acrylic paints. I was going for an aged leather look, just like dead skin left to dry.

 It was tricky to blend the right degree of shadow and skin tone on something that was so curved. But I like where it was going.

Here's a front view.

I wanted to represent the side of Leatherface you don't often see, the cross-dressing aspect of the franchise that larger gets glazed over, but solely utilized for its creepiness. I added smeared blue paint for eye shadow, rosy pink paint for blush and a blood red jagged lining of paint for lipstick.

 I went along the brow line with black thread and stitched into the mask. This was a bit of a challenge, especially with the rubber giving way and pulling. I didn't want to put too many holes in this or tear it. I had to do this after painting because there's no way I could paint around the thread. It was a challenge but it really adds to the look of the mask.

This stitching goes from the hairline down along the front side of the ears. I wanted a jagged, hand done touch to it all.

 Now for the Pièce de résistance - I stole the hair from my girlfriend's brush. I picked it out over the course of a few weeks and amassed enough to cover the head. I adhered it to the mask using liquid latex.

Here's a side view where you can see more of the hair and the side stitching. The hair had to be layered and let me tell you what a pain in the ass it is to work with glue and hair. But I really think that it adds a super eerie factor to the piece and reflects the subject matter properly.

 For the sculpt I chipped off the nose and the additional set of ears towards the back of the head. I then painted it up in a more rosy flesh like appearance with appropriate shading.

This look would be a base coat that I would then coat in Shellac.

With this coating of Shellac it gave the piece a urine hued coloring. The stink was another fun element to contend with, but this protective coating would ensure that the color wouldn't smudge with handling the piece. It gave it a bit of shine that I'm sure will dull with age while tuning down the painted flesh tones.

 Here's the piece before the Shellac coating.

Here it is after.

The idea is that this mask would be a perfect fit over the sculpture itself. Now let's flash forward a little bit.

 I found a small boy's Oxford button up shirt at K-Mart and cut off the collar. I stained the ring around the neck with coffee. His next tie I made by sewing together scraps from the shirt itself. I used painter's tape to piece out a design for the tie and spray painted it on. Tying the tie to the neck of this piece was another challenge since it was so small.

 Here you can see where I chipped away the nose.

 I used a yellow rubber kitchen glove from the Dollar Store to create Leatherface's apron. I used the left one, which has a nice little "L" on it if you look close enough.

 I speckeled everything with red acrylic paint for a blood effect using a toothbrush.

 Here's a look at the tie and apron. It only extends about 4 inches from the sculpt. The only real draw back is that I hot glued the shirt in place around the base which made it a little wobbly.

 Here's the mask on the sculpt all done up. Notice the two sets of ears from before where now only one remains on the sculpture.

Here he is in all his glory - LEATHERFACE!!

Here's a peek a how the sculpture was made to be interactive with the mask being pulled on & off. This is before the additions of the hair, shirt, etc. This was quite a challenge and I'm very excited for Wes to have this in his new home. There's some things I would change in regards to fabrication, but all in all, I think the steps I took in the pre-production of this piece helped craft a very strong sculpture. I still have a long way to go in terms of achieving a realistic figure sculpt, but I think it's not too bad for someone that's only taught themselves. It's totally a unique one of a kind piece, done all without a mold. Every project is a stepping stone to the next one. Maybe your commission will be my next piece?

I'll let this gem play me out...

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