Julian Jardine - Creating a Polar Bear
This page covers the creation process behind making a polar bear. The final polar bear was donated to Edinburgh Zoo as a prize in a competition to help raise funds to pay for Mercedes, the zoo's polar bear, to move too a new enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park in late 2009. I had a mixture of polar bear pictures and photos of Mercedes to work from for this piece.
I regularly use either first hand experience or documentaries to give me ideas for new pieces, I then use a google image search to get several pictures from the internet that I can use to help with pose, detailing and features. Almost any animal can be found and importantly photographed from many different angles.
The initial stages for this piece start off as a simple pinch pot, roughly 1cm thick. I then start to add rough pinches of clay to build the pot into a very rough vase form. I take large chunks of clay, very quickly and roughly squeezed into leg shapes, open them up with a finger inside and then attach them to the vase ensuring a hole lets air circulate through. I use a steel kidney (flat piece of metal thats kidney shaped) to compact the clay and tidy up the clay pinches I add.
Here I have now built the neck up further and closed it up in a very rough head shape. The arm is again a thick chunk of clay simply squeezed into the rough shape, made hollow with a finger or paint brush handle and then added to the body. Its very important to make sure air can escape to the body or keep track of where you trap air in the model so you can ensure it escapes later. Trapped air during a firing causes pieces to crack or explode, something you want to avoid after putting several days work in!
Adding on the final arm, the rough shape of the piece is in place. The aim is to keep the model roughly 1cm thick all over to help it dry evenly once complete. As clay dries it shrinks and variations in thickness lead to tension cracks as thinner sections shrinking fast pull on thicker sections. Making the piece hollow not only makes the final product lighter, but also the trapped air adds rigidity to the piece during creation, rather like an inflated balloon or football.
Creating the fur texture on a piece like this is done with a combination of a craft knife and needle tool. I aim to follow the natural flow of the fur as it would be on the animal, with variations in thickness, length and direction. Small details are added at this point also like toes and nails.
Depending on the size of the piece I will sometimes build internal supports in to help avaoid the piece slumping. Once leather hard a hole can be cut and these supports removed. Regularly in a bear I will build a slab from front to back inside keeping the shape of the spine and belly.
I use a vaiety of tools including a cheese wire, small kitchen knife, scraper board nib, craft knife, potters knife, steel kidneys and coarse brushes to create the different textures. Doing the fur this way is very time consuming, taking anywhere from 6hrs to 12hrs depending on the model. I create the initial model quickly like roughing in a picture, all the time comes in detailing. Its a great way to learn patience!
The sculpture is now punctured in several places with a needle tool to allow steam to escape during the firing. The underside is tidied up by allowing it to dry to leather hard then laying it out on thick foam. It then takes about 2 weeks to fully dry and is ready to fire. I take pieces up to around 1080-1150 degrees centigrade in the kiln and an average firing lasts 8-10hrs.
The bisque fired piece comes out a light buff colour. I undercoat in the deepest shadow colour with very watery acrylic. This quickly dries and is then painted over using layers of paint called dry brushing, each coat the brush has less paint on it, and the highlights are applied after most of the paint has been taken off on newspaper. Varnish on the eyes, nose and nails adds the finishing touch. I apply a sticky back felt to the base to avoid scratching furniture.