The goal: build a large hand

Specifications:

  • About two feet long, from wrist to finger tip
  • Need not be anatomically exact, but I’d like it to somewhat realistic  (somewhere between Michelangelo’s David and Homer Simpson)
  • Muscular in look and feel
  • To be displayed on its back, in a relaxed, semi-closed position

Step 1: Solid model

Hand in Progress
The beginnings of a large hand, cut in half

A project like this begins with a big block of wet clay.  I slap it into rough shape, first with a 2×4, then I move on to paddles.  At this early stage, the optimism is flowing.  The image I have of the finished piece (which is totally awesome, of course) guides me.  If I can just get this blob of clay in front of me to match what’s in my head, I’m golden.  The struggle, however, has just begun.

2. Frankenstein's hand
Frankenstein’s hand falls down

Reality sets in.  After too much manhandling (no pun intended) this first model was ugly as sin.  It was already getting away from me (poorly proportioned) when it fell over onto the floor.  I stared at this mess for about 4 minutes before deciding it was probably for the best.  I needed to start over.

Step 2: Second solid model

3. right hand supported
At some point, the solid model gets so heavy, it needs support

The second hand looks better, but it still suffers from wonky proportions.  I decide to carry on.

4. right hand on back
Fingers are starting to become more refined

In time, things start coming together.  At this stage, I often make parts of the project thicker and/or longer than they’re ultimately going to be.  The extra mass gives me room to cut details into the surface once it sets up.

Step 3: Disassembly and hollowing out

6. under plastic
Work in progress, wrapped to stay moist.

With proportions right and the placement of all the parts determined, the whole thing is cut into pieces.  Each piece is then hollowed out and the inside walls are compressed.  The whole thing is eventually reassembled.  In this case, each finger was cut off at the base and the palm was cut in half horizontally.

5. bisected pinkie finger
The pinkie finger is bisected down the centerline, ready to be hollowed out

To better accommodate the hollowing-out process, some of these parts need to be cut open further, like the fingers.  If possible, I’ll make these cuts right down the middle, resulting in two halves that mirror each other.  I can then scoop out the center, compress the walls, and stitch the sides back together.

Step 4: Reassembly

7. reattaching fingers
Hollow fingers being reattached

Once everything is hollow, everything is put back together.  During reassembly, I make sure air travels freely to all parts of the piece on the inside and then out of a small hole somewhere on the surface.  I enjoy finding an inconspicuous spot for this tiny hole.  It can be as small as a piece of spaghetti.  Where’s Waldo comes to mind.

Step 5: Detail

After all of this comes my favorite part: adding detail.  Everything to this point merely sets the stage for this crucial step.  It’s the best.  Nothing I do in the studio compares to the pure joy of zoning out on the details in wet clay.  It’s kinda what I live for.

After that, the piece is cleaned-up and set aside to dry for several days.  Then, I get to make another one.  More photos to come.  ∆

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