Thursday, September 20, 2012

My first limited-edition paper sculpture

I've only completed one AP of Common
Cliff Dragon--Male
 so far. Here he is at his
August Art Night show debut--just before
his new owner took him home!
Common Cliff Dragon--Male is a small, relatively simple piece, but it breaks new ground for me. It is my first-ever limited edition of a multiple-original paper sculpture.

I've been working up to this for a bit more than a year and a half, since the first edition in the Mail Piece Project. My emphasis area for my undergraduate art major was printmaking, and most of my earlier fine art career was taken up with producing and helping to sell reproduction prints by myself and other artists, so the idea of a limited edition has never been strange to me.

During the first several years of doing paper sculpture, however, I couldn't see how I could possibly create a limited edition of them. Then I started the Mail Piece Project. Those pieces were more pop-up than paper sculpture, but as I worked on them I began to see more clearly how I could incorporate another "first love," ink drawing, into the process, and make printouts with archival paper and ink.

L-R: The White Dragon (2007), A Nest in the Wildwood (2008-9), Denizen of the Winter Trees (2009), and
Patterns in Turquoise (2011), the final piece in the "Snowflake Dragons-TNG" series.
To explore further, I needed a subject I knew well--it is only helpful to take on so many challenges at once. A dragon was a natural choice for me.

My first-ever paper sculptures, The White Dragon (2007) and A Nest in the Wildwood (2008-9) featured dragons. When I was figuring out a pattern prototype I started with a dragon in Denizen of the Winter Trees (2009). When I was figuring out how to manipulate color in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, I did my first experiments with "The Next Generation" of "Snowflake Dragons"(2011).

"Body" drawing
So it was back to the dragon-drawing board for this new effort. I started out knowing only that the image area should be about 5X7" and the subject should be a dragon. Then I let my pencil think for me, for a while.

The result was a pencil drawing of a dragon crouched on a fairly sheer cliff face.  I used tracing paper to trace first the wings, then a full view of the cliff face (no void, even though that meant much of what I drew would eventually be obscured by the body and wings--I wanted a certain flexibility in positioning). The original pencils provided the base for the body's ink lines.

I inked the tracings and scanned them, then added color using Adobe Illustrator and my new Wacom Bamboo Tablet. As I worked with the colors, the idea of a neutralized gray-green cliff background and splashy red-and-white coloration for the dragon began to develop. But what could possibly induce a species to develop the kind of coloration that would make it stand out brilliantly from its background?

Wings, with color added
Yes, I know: dragons aren't a real species. But if they were, they'd follow the same evolutionary patterns as real species, and I'm deeply enough steeped in science to know that most creatures--even those at the top of the food chain, such as tigers, leopards, and wolves--generally have some level of camouflage that helps them visually blend into their surroundings.

The main exceptions I could think of were birds and fish. In some of those species, the males display brilliant colors, both to attract a mate and to decoy enemies away from nests. One look at this dragon's wings should tell you I see him as more bird than fish! Goes along with the whole "feathered dinosaur" thing, in my mind.

Okay, so now I had a "logical" rationale for making him the colors I wanted to: he's in mating plumage. Maybe the rest of the year he goes around in drab gray-green, but during this one season he sports a complimentary color scheme like Christmas. And just to make sure the rationale is clear, I added a border and "scientific" information about him (If anyone reading this knows Latin, please check my usage!).

Even sporting red feathers, my cliff dragon was too well
camouflaged against the left-hand background.
I gave him deeper shadows in the background at right.
There still was the matter of the cliff rocks, and I went back and forth on this for a while. Even with all the red on him, he still tended to blend into the background a bit more than was helpful for an artwork (although I'm already extrapolating what kind of predator might prey on common cliff dragons. He wouldn't want to stand out so much that Dragon Eaters could even more easily spot him, or it could be a very short, unhappy mating season!)

My husband didn't care about Dragon Eaters. "I'd make the background completely black," he said. "That'll make him 'pop!'"

I tried a really dark gray screen overlay over the rocks, to see if I could live with it, but I couldn't dismiss thoughts of the Dragon Eaters, and it didn't look enough like the kind of lighting and background colors that worked with this dragon's coloration to suit me. Finally, I came to the compromise of giving him darker shadows to outline some key "edges." That way, I wouldn't feel required to put a pin through his back and claim he was a collected specimen in a shadowbox.

Scroll up and check to see if you think the darker shadows did the trick!

Finally, after all this, I had something I could cut out, sculpt, and assemble, sort of in the way I did with the roses I showed a few weeks back. The rocks are 3-D, as well as the dragon. To me, the sculpting is the most fun part, because it's a little like making magic happen.

There's only "AP #1" (the first Artist's Proof) so far. My little cliff-dweller is possibly still in development. I don't know if there will need to be more proofs (I sold AP #1 on its first outing, before my husband could see it), nor have I figured out an edition size. Even when I can print pre-made flat images, I still have to cut out the pieces, sculpt them all, and assemble each one by hand--a fairly time-consuming process, even though I can do it while watching Nature or Bones on TV. Perhaps I can take a reading on some of these questions if people leave comments (please? I'd love some input!).

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