Oolong's Zoo

Polymer Clay Critters and Other Sculptures

Seated critterSpirit of FrankieWater-dwellersWe don't make good wivesSamhuinn prep - binding the withiesA string of pearlsSeated critter (front view)Spirit of Frankie

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Monopod staff

My staffI found my staff as driftwood on the beach at Helensburgh, the morning after spending a night in a police cell for protesting at the nuclear base Faslane.

I took it home, flaked off what was left of its bark, sawed off the rough ends and sanded it down. Then I stained it slightly with tea, and once it had fully dried I rubbed linseed oil in to preserve it, to bring out the colour and to give it a slight sheen.

Later I mounted a screw in the top so that I could use it as a monopod. This would hold my camera still on the top, or indeed anything else there that has the same kind of thread as a camera – a 1/4″ Whitworth thread, which turns out to be incredibly hard to find in Britain, where all the nuts and bolts went metric years ago. I made a dragon with glowing eyes, about 6″ tall, to place on top.

My first attempt just involved drilling a hole and mounting a bare, topless bolt in it using epoxy putty. This turned out to be a mistake – the mounting needs to be strong enough to withstand repeated screwing and unscrewing, and this wasn’t, leading to my camera falling off and breaking slightly when someone jostled against me one night.

Staff screwMy second attempt used the camera screw and its plastic mounting from a monopod walking-stick I bought, whose manufacturers had made much the same mistake as me – it was originally attached to a feeble piece of plastic that broke almost immediately after I bought it; I took it back, got it replaced, and the second time, with great care, it lasted about a week. Still, the remaining mounting was sturdy enough, and with a large drill I made a hole in the top of my staff just big enough to accommodate it, and fixed it in place once more with epoxy putty. It has held ever since. The curve of the staff makes it easy to spin around in order to screw and unscrew it.

Two-sided snake staff shotLast year I realised that the staff would make a much more comfortable walking stick if it had finger-grips, so I started carving some into it. After I had been at it for a while I realised that the knot just above the grips I was carving looked a bit like an eye, and the snake design naturally followed.

It’s not easy to tell what kind of tree driftwood comes from, in general, but based on the opinion of a professional wood-worker I met, I think my staff is made of yew – the density of little knots suggests an evergreen, while weight and strength of the wood rule out most other varieties of softwood. I use the staff for hiking, supporting my weight when I have a leg injury, and as a monopod. It is so strong that despite its curve, it can hold my entire weight.

posted by frm at 10:13 am  

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Photographing Small Sculptures

Polymer clay critters (not to mention jewellery, etc.) are not the easiest thing in the world to photograph, as demonstrated by the wealth of photos out there which don’t do justice to the art pictured. They are not the most challenging either, however, and anybody should be able to get decent results if they pay some attention to each stage of the process…

Tiny Studio
  1. Setting: I tend to take most of my pictures of my critters against very plain backgrounds, allowing them to stand entirely on their own merits. Mostly I use simple white backgrounds – a folded sheet of paper or the inside of a large, blank birthday card works well for this. Wooden shelves can also make a pleasant backdrop without being distracting. You might also like to consider putting them into another context though, like they’re going on an adventure. There are some fun Fimo-critter adventure photos here, by motodraconis, and I very much like what Alice did with the white rabbit I gave her. I love the settings Leslie Levings uses for her critters.
  2. Lighting: It helps if you have quite a bit, whether from a bright desk lamp, a window, or both. Pay attention to how the light brings out the lines and colours of the piece; if it’s relevant, think about the mood of it. A sheet of paper placed on the opposite side of the sculpture from the light will make the shadows much less harsh; to make them softer still, place it between the light and the sculpture.
  3. Photographing: You’ll usually need to use a macro (or ‘super-macro’) setting, or lens; almost all digital cameras do this fairly well, in my experience. Getting in so close to your subject usually means that the depth of field will be very tight; that can work very well to bring out important details, but if you want the whole piece to be in focus you’ll probably need to use a small aperture, i.e. high ‘f-stop’. Bog-standard digital cameras tend to allow you to control this only in ‘manual’ mode.
    A small aperture means that less light gets into the camera, which is one reason it’s important to have good lighting: If the lighting isn’t very, very bright, you’re going to need quite long exposures, which means that if you’re holding the camera by hand you’re almost certain to get motion blur. Put the camera on a tripod (tiny little ones are very cheap), or rest it carefully on a surface.
  4. Hedging Bets: Take plenty of shots! It’s tricky to take perfect photographs of something so small, and you shouldn’t expect to get it right first time. Experiment with the lighting, camera angles and setting, especially when you’re new to this; figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and allow for getting it wrong a lot of the time.

Above all, have fun!

posted by frm at 8:37 pm  

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