June 1, 2010

When you're in over your head

Blog, you remember when I undertook to create a doll out of polymer clay some weeks ago, and managed (after a ridiculous number of hours) to complete the head and torso.  Well, this long weekend it was back to work on this daunting project.

You'd think it wouldn't be any harder to do a pair of legs and feet than to do a head and torso, right?  Well, here's the problem:  you have to also ATTACH the legs.  It was so maddening I am actually letting that split infinitive go uncorrected, Blog. 

There I was, feeling I had suffered enough having dealt with making the calves too fat and the feet too big.  (I was about to put the whole thing in to bake when I decided to remove a chunk from the middle of each foot.)  And having the heels out of proportion with the toes.  And the arches wrong.  And those tiny toenails looking mutant.  But no...it got worse.

My doll went into the oven perfectly posed on a box the height of her eventual rock seat.  I checked on her (fortunately) a few minutes later to find that her torso had pitched way forward.  Out of the oven quick!  Then I discovered although warm polyclay is bendable, bend it more than a tad and it simply cracks.  Both legs came off, the knees split, and one foot cracked. 

This was actually NOT the moment I seriously thought of throwing in the towel.  That came later, believe it or not.

I quickly patched the legs and foot and baked them separately.  They came out okay-looking, and my time was up for the day, so I packed everything away so I could switch to patio party mode for a day.  Patio party mode was much more fun.  I wonder if Michaelangelo ever packed his David statue away for a day and hosted a grape-stomping party or something.

Okay, back to the torture.  Next day, closer examination of the legs required me to do a lot of tweaking and clean up with carving.  Polyclay carves well, fortunately.  But wouldn't you think, Blog, that having taken four hours to do those legs, they wouldn't need more work?  One calf was still too big!  Etc.  Argh.  And then I fit them back on the torso, discovering in the process that during first baking, one of the knees got twisted in a very odd way.

This was the moment.  The about-ready-to-admit-defeat moment.  I had suspected when I started that this would be one of those challenges that was more than I could handle, but I figured it would be like portraiture is for me:  given enough time, I eventually get it right.  Maybe so, but it was looking like "enough time" might end up being about as long as it took to write, film and edit the entire series of "Lost."

Plus, I was really getting sick of working on something that wasn't very fun.  What I love about polyclay is (1) working with colors and (2) the quick results.  Obviously this doll was not in the latter category, but I was also really tiring of ecru.  Human flesh is a damn boring color after awhile.  I should have elected to make one of those beings from "Avatar."

Problem is, to admit defeat would be to have wasted the 20-something hours I've put into this thing.  That was even more depressing.

I eventually got the legs on in a position that actually is sort of cute and quirky while not looking impossible (the photo doesn't really do the pose justice, so take my word for it).  Hallelujah!  I laid the figure down this time and propped her legs and her head as well, to make sure there would be no pose shifting.  Baking went well.  More carving was necessary of course, and between waist and knees she looks like she has more cellulite than me, but fortunately some day (in 2012 or so) she will be wearing clothes and that won't matter.

Meanwhile, Davie and I agreed that I really needed to do a fun project for a change.  While dolly was baking, I made a pendant and earrings inspired by the gorgeous work of Meisha Barbee.  They didn't come out as well as hers of course, but they came out looking good enough that a person who hasn't seen the gorgeous work of Meisha Barbee would think they were pretty nice.  It was SO FUN doing something fun.  I will remember this the next time I get it into my head to do a Daunting Project.

So, all that's left now are the arms and hands.  "All that's left," ha Blog!  I can only imagine the nightmare ahead!  Mutant hands, arms at a crazy angle, arms falling off, hands breaking, and the doll coming out looking like she went through the transporter from "The Fly" and came out in a very bad way.  All I want is to survive all this so I can deal with the less daunting but still hard painting, hair making, and clothes creating.

I'd like to say this Being in Over Your Head thang is "an excellent learning experience," "character-building," and all that.  But Blog, it may also be something that conveys but one lesson:  don't overestimate your abilities.  I guess we'll see when it's all over.



  1. Whew woman! You are still braver than I am. Taking on a sculpture challenge is something far beyond me to do. I do like the feet. I can imagine her sitting near a pool of water that was cold and up comes a toe at the sensation. Don't give up. When all is said and done it will come together. YOU CAN DO IT! I really like the necklace and earing set. You need to do the fun stuff more often. Well, I hope you do finish the doll in this lifetime. I can hardly wait to see the end result.

  2. Seriously, Dawna, I don't know what I'd do without your encouragement! It really keeps me going. And thanks for liking the feet! :-)