Over the last two weeks I made a, eastern dragon, and I’m very happy about it! This was my first attempt at sculpture, as well as being a much larger polymer clay project than anything I’ve ever tried before. There were plenty of lessons to be learned from it, and some of it was frustratingly slow, but I’m looking forward to making another sculpture soon!
To begin with, I created a wire armature to support the clay and to define the basic shape of the dragon. I wanted to be certain to capture a sense of motion, and so I wanted the tail to have a dynamic flow. As this dragon would also be flying (eastern dragons fly without wings), I used two small copper rods to suspend the dragon above the base. At this point, I started wrapping aluminum foil around the wire to begin defining the volume of the dragon without needing to use a lot of clay instead.
After that, I added additional thinner wire for the limbs I was planning to add. While this picture is a bit blurry, you can see here that I planned for the dragon to have slightly longer limbs, but I underestimated the problems to come. I also finished adding foil, then covered it in a layer of masking tape – a trick I learned from watching ‘Polymer Clay Artist‘ on Youtube.
It was while working to add the first layer of polymer clay that the problems began. I knew what polymer clay should be like when it was fully conditioned, but the FIMO soft I was using just refused to get there. It remained somewhat crumbly and would crack easily when applying. Foolishly, I wasted about 7 hours of time trying to get it to condition, but I managed to get this layer on with a lot of work, and it is bumpy as all get out! It was after all that effort that I found out from another polymer clay artist what ‘heat damaged’ clay was, which described what was going on with this clay perfectly. Still – I didn’t have any other large blocks of clay at this point, so I decided I would do a first bake on this, and when I could afford it, smooth it out with a second layer.
Luckily, thanks to a sale at Michaels, I was able to get my new clay within a couple of days, and blended Super Sculpey with Super Sculpey firm (another idea from ‘Polymer Clay Artist’). It was much easier to work with, not being heat damaged! I added my second layer of clay, and this is where I realized the second problem: I hadn’t made the armature for the limbs long enough to retain their form with this much clay. As a result, the limbs on my dragon became a bit stubby. I decided that was okay though. It just made him a little cuter. 🙂
Now it was time to give him a head. I had pre-baked horns and talons, but not eyes. When I was modelling the head, I just made the eyes out of FIMO Nightglow glow-in-the-dark clay and put them into sockets I had made. It worked, but the eyes started to deform as I worked with the clay around the eyelids. Next time I’ll pre-bake the eyeballs as well. After getting this head done, I decided to shorten the snout and discard the fangs, which you’ll see in the upcoming photos.
Having finished the head, it was time to add plates. It was a fairly quick process of cutting and layering. As I knew I was going to overlap the plates with the scales, I didn’t do a lot to keep the edges neat. Next time I might do a little more, just for the sake of texture. As you can see, I worked to keep the plates aligned with the natural flow of the dragon’s tail as he flies, so some plates end up being visible from the top, as the dragon’s tail had naturally curved that way when he flexed it.
It was not time for the most monotonous part of the project: adding the scales. All of the scales were individually cut and layered. It gave the dragon the good look and texture I wanted, but it took me about 10 hours to cut and place all of the individual scales. I’ve got a couple of ways I’m looking at to tackle scales for future dragons to make it easier. I’ll explore those in future posts.
Once the scales were complete, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I had always known I wanted the eastern dragon to have ‘hair’ running in a line down his back. I also knew I could use the hair to mask the join where the scales flowing one way down the face met the scales flowing the opposite way down the back. I mixed some emerald-green sculpey with some nightglow, just to see if I could get a glow-in-the-dark effect for the hair, but alas, it didn’t work well and is barely perceptible. I also would texture the strip running down his back differently in the future. I tried to just use a needle tool to give it quick texture, but it doesn’t look very good after baking. You can’t really see it from a couple of feet away, so it’s not a huge deal.
The biggest problem here was the mustache. I wanted to ensure that the mustache wouldn’t be easily breakable, and I wanted it to retain a lightly curved shape, so I decided to use a small piece of wire as the core of it. Unfortunately, I deformed his nose a bit when I pushed the wire through, and because I didn’t want the wire exposed, I wasn’t able to get it as smooth as I’d hoped. I hoped that some sanding after baking would solve that for me. With all of this complete, I put him in for a second bake.
Here we have the completed dragon! I wanted him to appear to be an older dragon, so I had textured his skin using a crumpled piece of foil. After the bake, I then gave his exposed flesh multiple light glazes of color to make it look aged. I also tried to sand the mustache, but started worrying about cracking the clay so stopped. Finally, I added the cat pupils using a micron pen. They don’t really look right to me, and I’m debating removing the pupils before I seal him with varnish. What do you think?
Regardless, for my first attempt at something like this, I think he turned out very well. My next project will be something more in line with my Butterfly Bay Design blog, but after that I plan to return to create a western dragon with wings. It’s going to be fun, and I’m certain I’ll have a lot more to learn. When that starts, I’ll post about it here!