October 27, 2014

DIY Ichimatsu Doll pt. 2: Sculpting

Okay, now we get to the difficult part: sculpting. Have I mentioned this is a long and difficult project? Truthfully, I actually started working on this project exactly one year ago! During that time, I did take long pauses away from the projext, either out of frustration or to take care of my health, the longest pause being from November 2013 to September 2014, so the actual process isn't nearly as long as I've taken on this!

The prepped doll head and feet
Clay (I used La Doll air dry stone clay)
Clay sculpting tools
X-acto knife
A small bowl of water
A small amount of dried out clay, grated to a powder
Wet/Dry sandpaper, in various fine grits (I used 150, 320, and 600)
Optional: firm paint brushes (they can also be used for gently shaping more delicate facial features)

First, a quick word about clay. I mentioned in my previous post that I am a complete novice to working with clay, so this sculpting process is a little difficult for me to fully explain, as I have done a lot of experimenting during this stage. All lot of work has been done, and it is difficult to photograph and explain every detail. If you have a good eye for 3D facial forms and symmetry, you will do just fine! Experiment as much as you need to - even though it is air dry clay, it isn't permanent and it wouldn't be too late to make changes if needed. You can keep the clay soft by wrapping it in plastic wrap, or if it has dried and you need to take it off, you can chip it away with a chisel and start over.

I used La Doll natural stone clay in satin smooth. I chose this clay as I know it is often used by doll artists, including for making ball-joint dolls. It is an air-dry clay, so it needs to be wrapped in plastic and put in a seal-able plastic bag between uses to keep it soft. It can also be sanded to a smooth surface, which is good for doll makers. However, I am having a love-hate relationship with this clay, as it surprisingly weak for something like a doll, especially a full ball-joint doll like I've seen this clay used for. Once dry, I find the clay is easy to chip, and doesn't seem like it would hold up from the clay doll parts clacking even gently on hard surfaces, or doll parts hitting or rubbing against each other. I looked around and could not find any decent ideas for strengthening this clay, so if anyone has any suggestions, please do share! Paint and varnish helps marginally, but I do feel like a stronger surface is preferable. But, if you treat your doll nicely, it will be strong enough to stay beautiful for years to come! I have a little boy who is in love with the Ichimatsu dolls, so my doll isn't getting treated as nicely, haha!

These are the clay tools that I purchased. I found more than anything else, I used the 4 tools on the left. The far left bamboo tool has at one end a slightly spoon shaped tip, a little more narrow that my smallest finger, and the 3 other tools on the left are the smallest sizes of ball-tipped sculpting tools.

Remember that small amount of clay I said to set aside to dry? Grind it to a powder using a citrus zester, or the zester side of a cheese grater, and then put it through a flour sifter to get the texture even finer. You can keep this clay powder on hand in case your clay gets too wet, as well as a small bowl of water for smoothing out clay.

Start sculpting the face: Begin by blocking out the eyes.

Yeah... it's still creepy at this point! Eventually the entire surface of the porcelain head will need to be covered in a thin layer of clay. I started at the eyes and nose, just getting some clay on there to get the basic shape. At this point I am not focusing of getting my desired facial features, just the basic forms. For the eyes, I put on a layer of clay over the entire eyes and then cut out an eye shape from the clay. The shape of the eyes and eyelids will come later. As you sculpt, use reference photos of other Ichimatsu dolls, and you can also look at your own face for facial shapes and details.

I decided that the first layer of clay over the eyes gave too thin of a layer for the eyelids, so I added more to make it thicker. I could then refine the shape of the eyelids by carving the wet clay with an X-acto knife. I then added more clay to the bridge of the nose and made it straighter and flat, made the tip of the nose thinner and added nostrils using the ball-tip tools, and added clay over the mouth. For the lips, I used a flat bamboo clay knife to indent between the lips, and the smallest metal ball-tip tool to draw in the outline of the lips, and a larger ball-tip for the philtrum (small indent above the lips). After a whole lot of fussing and pushing around clay, it is starting to look more like a face. Wrap it up with plastic wrap if you need to set the work aside for a while.

Next I smoothed out and thinned the bridge of the nose some more, cleaned up the shape of the eyes, shaped some double eyelids, and added clay to the cheeks. Thinning the nose helped to elongate the face.

Now that things are taking shape, here's a side-by-size to my other Ichimatsu doll. I don't want them to have too similar of faces. I am a twin myself, so I wanted to avoid a "copy-paste" of facial similarity. Dolls are cuter in their diversity. At this point, I felt safe to let the clay dry out over night, and then smooth things out by sanding and adding more clay. In order to add more clay on top of dried clay, all you need to do is wet the surface a little bit to help it stick. I did notice at this point that the nose had become slightly more indented that the other side, but I later fixed it with more clay and sanding. Try to cut your fingernails as short as possible to avoid accidents like this.

Refine the facial features:
Now that the clay has dried out, changes to the face will happen gradually. It does take a long time to get everything smooth and even. I can't even count how many times I've sanded, added more clay, dry, sand more, accidentally sand all the way through to the porcelain, more clay, dry, sand, rinse and repeat.. It is repetitive, and I will admit that this is the point that I put it off for 8 months out of frustration... I have a bit of a perfectionist nature, and I let that get in the way of my progress. I finally decided I'd had enough and got through it with beautiful results!

Look at the doll head from all angles and determine what features will need to be refined or built upon further with clay.
I forgot to take a photo, but I did build up the ears with clay prior to this. I took photos of my son's ears and used that as reference. The surface of the clay is still bumpy. If you can get the surface less bumpy than I did before letting it dry, please do. I main reason I spent so much time sanding and adding more clay was because of the bumpy surface. An uneven surface is easy to sand away on larger areas, but very difficult to clean up around the nose and mouth. Learn from my fail!

Aside from the bumpy surface, I can see that the main trouble areas are the shape of the bridge of the nose and the small chin. There are also some symmetry issues that need to be addressed.

Before adding more clay, sand the surface smoother, starting with 150 grit sandpaper, then 320 grit. Take care around the facial features to not sand away the details. The indented ridge on the side of the nose is less pronounced, but still needs to be filled in.

Even though the clay is dry, facial features can still be sculpted. In fact, I found that it was easier to shape things after the clay had dried out. I used my ball-tipped sculpting tools to press in the nostrils more, shape around the outside of the nostrils, outline the lips and phitrum, eyelids, and the insides of the ears.

After some more sanding and layers of clay. I sanded the tops and backsides of the ears as much as possible without sanding all the way through the clay, and added a thin layer of clay to the entire surface of the neck and bust. To easily add a thin layer of clay to a large surface, you can roll the clay flat with a rolling pin, or a rounded tool. Now I think the only major thing to fix is the chin. It needs to be a little larger.

I rolled a small ball of clay for the chin, placed it on the chin and smoothed it to shape. At this point I put the head aside to begin working on the feet.

Sculpting the feet:
Before sculpting the toes, apply a thin layer of clay to the entire surface of the feet. This is help the sculpted toes to stick better to the foot.

Before sculpting the toes, I printed out a doll tabi pattern and roughly stitched together a draft tabi from scrap fabric to see how the fit was.
I did this for several reasons. I can get a good idea or how long to make the toes without making the feet too big, and to see if it would be possible to put tabi on the foot if the toes were not sculpted. I have seen many examples of Ichimatsu dolls in which the large toe is not sculpted separate from the other toes, or not sculpted at all. While it may be fine to leave off the toes, I found that the empty space inside the tabi is too floppy and looks unnatural. Also, not having toes is limiting on being able to dress the finished doll in a yukata without the tabi, should one desire to do so for the changing seasons. This does not mean that sculpting the toes with a space between the big toe is a necessity, I also own a ball-joint doll that does not have optional split-toe feet, and I have made tabi for her. I used craft foam to fill in the empty spaces in the toes of that doll's tabi to make them look natural, so that is also an option if you wish to skip this step.

The tabi pattern that I used is from this site, and is for making tabi for a Dollfie ball-joint doll. My doll's original foot size is about 5cm without toes, so this pattern worked well for me with only minor alterations. I printed the tabi pattern at regular print size (you may need adjust the print size as needed) and then placed my doll's toe-less foot on top of the printed pattern, about 0.25cm from the heel and the end of the cut portion between the toes, and traced around the foot. You can then draw on top of the printed pattern any further changes you need before cutting it out. For me, I widened it a little bit on the outside toes, and made sure there was 0.25cm seam allowance for the sole piece.

This doll foot has a wider ankle, so in order to get the tabi's back closure pieces lined up correctly, I added 0.5cm length to the back edge of the big toe half of the tabi (marked 内), and 1cm to the outside half of the pattern (marked 外). You can see above that I have drawn out basic toe shapes on top of the sole piece of the pattern.

Here is the roughly sewn test tabi, sewn with a 0.5cm seam allowance for the top pieces and a 0.25cm seam allowance for the sole. The size works great, but would certainly look better with toes inside to fill out the empty portions.

Now to start the toes. I used my tabi sewing pattern as a template and added clay directly in my drawn on shapes. They look like mittens now, but details will come later. Make the toe shape slightly smaller than the intended toe length, as you will be adding more clay later. Smooth out the clay as much as possible, then let it dry. Keep the tabi pattern for making tabi later on.

Even after the clay has dried, try to use gentle pressure while working the toes and adding more clay. The difficult thing about the porcelain foot base is that I could not figure out a way to insert something into the foot to help support the toes from breaking off. Clay is weaker than porcelain, so it is preferable to have a wire or something well inserted into the foot base before sculpting toes and fingers. Unfortunately I could not figure out a way to add support for the toes, so they are a little more fragile than desired. I did break off a toe when I first started to add more clay, but they are more sturdy now that the clay has dried for a much longer period of time.

Once the toe forms have dried, sand the surface smooth, and then use clay sculpting tools to carve lines separating the 4 smaller toes. I used my son's feet for reference, or you can examine your own feet as well. I like the ball-tipped tools for doing details. Start with the smallest ball-tip and carve between each toe, only go as deep as you feel comfortable, you can make the grooves deeper later on if you want to. Use the next smallest size ball-tipped tool to soften up the first carved grooves by going over them again. Then use the third smallest ball-tipped tool and press it into the ends of those grooves, closest to the top of the foot. If you look at your own feet, you will notice a soft indentation where the toes meet the feet, and depending on your foot, the skin at the ends of the toes may even fork off in either direction. Pushing in an indentation at the top of the toes will help the sculpted toes looks more natural. You don't have to do it much at this point, as you'll have to work those details in even more after the toes are shaped more.

Now to build up the individual toes. This is when the toes become rounder and more realistic looking. In this picture I am working the toes on both feet simultaneously for symmetry. The right foot (on the left-hand side of the photo) the second and third toes are completed and the fourth, fifth, and large toe still remain to be done. On the other foot, only the second toe is done and the third toe is being worked on.

To shape the toe, take a tiny ball of clay and roll it into a tiny log. Wet the surface of the toe base you are adding it to, and place the tiny clay log on the toe, slightly overhanging the length of the toe slightly, like shown on the left foot in the above photo (right-side of the photo).

Using your finger, smooth down the overlapping excess clay down the front of the toe, and then smooth the edges of the newly rounded toe using your clay sculpting tools - for this process, I found the "spoon" shaped bamboo tool to be most useful. The tip of the tool is small enough to press down the edges of the wet clay while keeping the shape of the toe round. The small amount of clay that extended beyond the base of the toe helped to create a rounder tip of the toe, helping the toes look separated.

Do the same for the remaining toes, using smaller tiny logs of clay as the toes get smaller. After all of the small toes are formed, do the same to the large toes to make them longer. Once they are dry, sand the tops of the toes smooth.

Now for the bottoms of the toes and feet. If you look at the back of your toes, the curve of your toes creates an indentation at the base of the toes, and the tips of the toes are rounded. First, carve out a groove at the base of the toes to echo that curve in the underside of the toes. I used a combination of clay scraping tools (in my tools photo, they are the metal tools), a bead awl (red handled tool in the above photo) and the ball-tipped clay tools. Don't go too deeply with the groove, as you don't want to weaken the toes. You can later make that groove seem deeper with paint. Carve out the spaces between the toes like it was done on the tops of the toes, then add tiny balls of clay to the tips of the underside of the toes and smooth them the same way as the tops of the toes.

Unfortunately, I did not photograph this next step to finish the bottom of the feet. After filling in spot of clay that I had sanded too much off (such as the gray spot on the bottom of the foot in the above photo), I then added a little more clay to give some shape to the bottom of the foot. My doll feet are fairly thick already, so I didn't add too much shaping to the bottom of the foot, but I didn't want the feet to be completely flat on the bottom.

On the bottom of a foot, the heel and the ball of the foot are rounded, while the arch is indented. To emulate this roundness, I added a little clay to the heel first. Then for the ball of the foot I added clay in two sections: behind the large toe, and a larger amount of clay behind the smaller toes and extended that down the outside edge of the foot, as in the footprint image above.

For even more detail, you can carve out tiny little toenails and wrinkles on the toe knuckles. Carve little squares for the toenails and scrape little wrinkles where the knuckles would be - use your own feet for reference. I used the spoon-shaped clay tool to refine the shapes of the toenails - use the rounded end of the tool to press in the corners of the toenails and round the edges so that it looks more natural and less like a carved square. Then use the tool underneath the tip of the nail by placing the flat half up under the nail, and the rounded half down toward the toe. Rub gently to indent the toe underneath the toenail. Feet are done!

Sand all of the clay parts to a smooth finish:
Before paint, get as much of the clay surfaces as smooth as possible. I have to admit, I hated the sanding process, mostly because I had to do it standing over the sink, and that reminds me too much of the intended purpose of my kitchen sink (I am not a very motivated dish washer!).
Make any last minute adjustments. For me, I refinded the shapes of the ears, and traced around and added wrinkles to the lips. 

Normal sanding still leaves a fairly uneven texture on the clay. Work to gradually finer grit sandpapers. Start with a fine paper, like 150 grit, then 320 grit. La Doll stone clay uses paper fibers to bind the clay together, so you will see a fuzzy sort of texture all over the sanded surface of the clay. This is normal.

Work up to a 600 grit sandpaper, and the surface texture becomes smoother.

Finally, get the 600 grit sandpaper wet and sand the surface again. The wet sandpaper will make the surface much smoother, and will help diminish the fuzzy paper pulp that had appeared on the surface. Do the same sanding for the feet, and clean off excess clay residue from the eyeballs before painting. I will cover painting in the next post!

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an old post, but I want to thank you for sharing it. I bought a collectible porcelain doll from a thrift shop to steal her outfit for an antique doll as a stop gap until I get her final outfit. I was feeling bad for the poor thrift shop girl with her bland chocolate box face and mussy; perhaps once she was as loved as my childhood porcelain dolls were.

    You've inspired me to try resculpting her and give her a new lease of life.