MAKING HERALDIC SCULPTURES
This page follows several projects as they develop from drawings on a page to fully-painted finished sculptures.
Every aspect of the process is covered in detail, from making the shield, through the modelling and casting stages, to the application of the various paint colours.
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CREATING THE 'GATES' COATS OF ARMS
Finished aluminium alloy 'Gates' coat of arms.
This project involved making two cast aluminium alloy coats of arms for a pair of gates. The finished pieces can be seen to the left.
I am starting this particular coat of arms from scratch, so I will also have to make the mould. I will now take you through the complete process.
Having received the picture that I will be working from to make the coats of arms, the first thing I do to scale the design up to full size is to draw a grid over it (see image 1). I used to draw it by hand, but do it on the computer these days!
In this case, putting the grid over the design has revealed that the image is a bit distorted - it appears to be a photo of the original drawing, but I can just correct that as I draw it up, making it symmetrical on the grid.
1. Draw the grid.
I used a paper template to mark the shape on a lump of polyurethane foam (image 2), and sawed off the excess (image 3). I use rasps and coarse sandpaper to make the approximate shape of the shield (image 4). This is soft coarse foam, so I can shape it up really quickly. It's no good for fine detail, but I don't need that yet.
I have used the grid I put on the photograph to scale the design up using a larger grid drawn on the modelling board. I place the shield I have started carving in place to get an idea of proportions before I carry on with it (image 5). It's quite a bit larger than it needs to be at the moment, so I will carry on shaping it to size.
2. Mark out the foam.
3. Cut out the foam.
4. Shape the foam.
5. Shield on grid.
MODELLING THE SHIELD
Having painted the foam shield with foundry paint, I smoothed acrylic putty over the surface and sanded it smooth. I then needed to form a slightly raised edge in the shape of a castellated line down the middle of the shield, so I reached for that most useful of materials, the cereal packet (true recycling!).
Cutting a narrow 'V' shape in the card was enough to allow the card to follow the curvature of the shield (then filled with acrylic putty and sanded to shape). I then make a bevelled edge on the card with Plasticine (image 6).
More foundry paint is added to harden the surface of the card. Minor imperfections where the card is cut and joined do not matter at this stage (image 7).
Next I stuck the foam shield to a board, applied wax and PVA release agents, and painted on the catalysed gel coat resin (image 8), and carried on making a GRP (fibreglass) mould. Once the mould had hardened, the foam had to be broken up and prised out of the mould in chunks (image 9).
6. Creating the raised edge.
7. Finished edge.
8. Gel coat resin.
9. Removing foam from the mould.
MORE WORK ON THE SHIELD
Once all the foam and cardboard was scraped out of the mould, the mould is cleaned up and more wax and PVA release agent applied to the surface (image 10), back to the same GRP laminating process again to make the 'positive' GRP shield shape.
Once cured and hardened, I removed the shield from the mould, trimmed it and sanded the surface to remove the irregularities where the card was cut and any other blemishes. Then I sprayed it with grey primer and gave it a final rub down with very fine wet-and-dry paper.
Next job is to mark out the positions of the two heraldic lions on the shield. I am all for short cuts where possible, so I printed out a full size image of one lion, cut it out and drew round the outline (image 11). For the lion facing the other way, I turned over the piece of paper and drew round it again (image 12).
The engraving of the lettering for the scroll has arrived in the post. Ted, my engraver, has cut it into the back of a sheet of clear Perspex (image 13), using the computer drawn file that I sent him. I drew the letters in a style based on the calligraphy script on the illustration provided, but made 'chunky' enough to cast well in aluminium. I will use this to mould the letters for the scroll on the casting pattern.
10. Release agent.
11. Left lion outline.
12. Right lion outline.
13. Perspex lettering.
MODELLING THE LIONS
14. Begin modelling the lions.
I've started modelling the lions on the shield (image 14). I am using industrial Plasticine for this. It is not as nice to use as clay, but it is okay for small things like this, and I will not have to worry about it drying out while I am modelling the rest.
Once the whole shape of the lion is roughed in, I start working downwards from the top in more detail (image 15).
Gradually I work my way down with the detailed modelling (image 16).
Then the second lion is blocked in rough. When there are two symmetrical features like this, the second one is always more difficult because there is a reasonable amount of design freedom with the first, but the second must be pretty much exactly like the first one, but in 'mirror image' (image 17).
Once I've finished modelling the second lion on the shield, I glue the shield onto the board that I had marked out previously (image 18), ready to start the clay modelling of the rest of the design.
15. Adding detail.
16. Yet more detail.
17. The second lion.
18. Shield on board.
MODELLING WITH CLAY
19. Starting the clay work.
I've made a start on the clay work. Again I begin by blocking in the overall shape in the rough to get the proportions right (image 19).
Once I've finished the rough shape, I then start working in more detail - starting at the top and working down (image 20).
I've refined the shape of most of the modelling apart from the scroll (image 21). Next I will mould the lettering from the engraved Perspex that I had made earlier, before finally shaping the scroll so that it fits well.
To make the raised lettering for the scroll I prepared the engraved piece of perspex with release agent and painted a layer of catalysed gel coat resin over the surface. Once it was cured, I was able to peel it off as a flexible strip (image 22).
I cut the resin strip to shape with a pair of scissors, then bent it to shape on the clay pattern, and modelled the clay around it (image 23).
20. Adding detail.
21. Refined clay except scroll.
22. Peeling the lettering.
23. Lettering added.
MAKING THE MOULD
It's a tricky business making a GRP mould from a clay pattern. The moisture in the clay can stop the surface of the resin curing properly, so it comes out sticky and lumpy. The way I do it is to let the clay get 'leather hard' but not so dry as to shrink and crack. Then the gel coat resin has to be particularly highly catalysed and applied quickly and evenly (image 24).
I put the space heater on and get the workshop really warm, but not blowing the heat directly at the clay pattern. Timing is crucial. The gel coat resin (image 25) will cure much more quickly on the non-clay parts of the pattern, and slowest of all where the clay is thickest (where it tends to be dampest and coldest).
As soon as the slow curing areas are cured enough that the surface won't be distorted by the laminating work, and before the fast curing areas over-cure and distort of their own accord, I turn off the heater and cool the room as much as possible and laminate the GRP quickly, but with low levels of catalyst to slow the reaction down. All a bit tense, but get it right and it works fine (image 26).
The mould turned out fine (phew!), so I dug out all the clay and other bits, cleaned it up, applied release agent and started moulding again - all normal catalyst levels and textbook process now.
I've removed the coat of arms from the mould and trimmed it (image 27). Now that it has a hard resin surface I can easily smooth it out and tidy it up.
24. Mould gel coat.
25. Gel coat resin.
26. Laminated back.
CASTING THE COATS OF ARMS
28. Applying foundry paint.
There are different ways of preparing casting patterns. The foundry (a new one I am trying) asked me to mount the pattern on a board this time, so I bonded some bolts on the back of the GRP moulding, cut a board to their preferred size, drilled it and fixed the pattern to the board with the bolts.
After a fair amount of checking over, finishing, and filling minor defects, I painted the whole pattern with special 'foundry paint' (image 28). Then I take the finished pattern (image 29) to the foundry (Novacast in Melksham).
When the foundry have finished their job (image 30), I return and collect the two aluminium alloy coats of arms they have made from my master pattern.
I drilled and tapped the fixing holes in the back of the coats of arms so they can be bolted to the gates (image 31), then I fettled the castings - filing off the lumps left where the channels were made to flow the liquid metal into the sand mould, and bits of roughness around the edge where the two halves of the mould join (image 32).
Next I scoured the surface thoroughly with rotating wire brushes, and filled any minor casting flaws. The coats of arms are ready for the primer now.
29. Finished pattern on board.
30. Castings at the foundry.
31. Tapping the fixing holes.
32. Fettling the castings.
33. Applying the red paint.
I sprayed the castings, front and back, with special etch primer, which bonds really well with the metal surface. Then I sprayed white primer on the front and painted the back black (quite carefully with a small brush so that it wouldn't run onto the front). Now ready for the more enjoyable bit of painting the front.
Now for the real painting - I started painting the horse off-white (to allow for some white highlighting later), and then painted black on the helmet (as a base for silver shading later) and on the shield. I did the black on the shield first because the red area is raised slightly, so it is easier to paint the red up to the black rather than the other way round (image 33).
I continued to paint the other red areas before the other black areas, because here it is easier to paint the black against the red, because the black covers better (image 34). The 'colour' side of the mantling is split red/black.
With the black and red finished - next I paint on the gold (image 35). Having finished the gold, and some very neutral beige "vellum" colour as a background for the scroll, that is all the basic colours applied.
Now for the shading. First the helmet. I get a flat mixing dish and put some silver in one corner and some black in another, and mix them in various proportions, using a freehand, 'dry brush' technique to try and give the impression of reflections off a steel helmet.
Every one I do is a bit different. Meanwhile I get on with the brown shading on the gold (image 36). this is more precise and stylised, but still making it up as I go along, just getting it to 'look right'.
I have finished the brown shading on both coats of arms and starting on the other bits of shading. First, some darker grey on the horse (image 37).
36. Brown shading.
37. Grey shading.
Next, I added a darker red on the red areas, and then defined all the edges with black (image 38). Painting the lettering (image 39) is quite easy because it is raised - a benefit of all that work earlier on making the raised lettering and applying it to the pattern.
The last bit of colour is the blue on the claws and tongues of the lions (image 40). Then I check them over and do any little adjustments, and use black paint to touch in any areas on the back where the colours from the front have run underneath.
Finally, I apply several coats of high gloss lacquer, and the coats of arms are finished, ready for delivery and installation (image 41).
38. Black edges.
41. Finished product.