What is under the paper?

     I don’t use an armature. I start with a balled-up wad of newspaper, wrapped tightly round with masking tape to create a basic skull shape; cranium, hollowed out eye sockets, chin, etc. The neck might be a mailing tube and the base is usually a cardboard box with a weight in it for stability.

What is the technique?

     I use strips of newspaper, soaked in wallpaper paste, overlapping each other to build up a solid base for the features. Ears, nose, eyes are added as I continue to build layer upon layer of paper strips.

     When the piece has reached a sufficient hardness (many, many layers of paper later), I apply a penultimate layer of strips of acid-free paper. This protects the final layer of text from the newsprint. As further protection, I spray the final layer with an acid-neutralizing spray used by library archivists to prevent the further discolouration and disintegration of old paper.

     The shading and delineating is done in pencil – 2B or 4B usually.

How is the paper for the final layer chosen?

     I try to look at the pages graphically, which means that usually they are chosen for the amount of text on the page. Descriptive passages are more useful than dialogue, which tends to have more white spaces.

     That being said, I opted in Gwendolyn MacEwen’s portrait to reserve the text for her hair and Cleopatra-style necklace and I chose very explicitly certain lines of her poetry to replicate her Kohl-lined eyes.

     To make Ernest Buckler’s chequered shirt, I utilized two editions of the same novel, one distinctly older and more discoloured than the other.

     Pauline Johnson’s poetry book ‘Flint & Feathers’ was a vellum edition from the turn of the last century and the texture of the paper was wonderfully seductive. It felt and looked like buckskin – how appropriate!

What about the hair and the accessories?

     If I decide to add ‘realistic’ hair, it is usually string or yarn, soaked in white glue and applied strand by strand. The clothing is also soaked in glue to harden it and to allow me to form realistic folds or wrinkles.

     A costume-designer friend has helped me with some of the more difficult accessories: for example, Pauline Johnson’s eagle feathers and trade-silver ornaments, Ernest Buckler’s period eye-glasses, Ralph Connor’s military cap and badge. Otherwise, I search them out at the Goodwill or flea-markets (and in one extreme case, my own closet – Robertson Davies is wearing my old university gown).

How long might one take to complete, start to finish?

     Normally, I work all morning on a piece and then let it dry overnight, ready for the next day's layer. If I work seriously, that is to say five days a week, it takes about six weeks to complete a bust.

the_process.txt · Last modified: 2013/04/09 20:57 (external edit)