Chopin medallion 1: Day 1

My new project is a medallion with Chopin’s portrait. I will try to document every step for my own benefit and anyone who is interested in trying low relief. The biggest challenge is the sheer size of the medallion and the likeness of course. This is my first take, I’m sure there will be many more. Right now I don’t know what I’m doing, just hoping to learn along the way.

I happened to buy Eduard Lanteri’s excellent book Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure a while ago, and I was happy to discover it had a whole chapter on modelling coins/medallions. I think I’ll use the book as my art Bible.

I’m very eager and anxious to start, there’s anticipation, hope but also fear of failure. It never gets better.

Chopin11Here are most of the tools I thought I might need, I even made one myself. The little white tool was made of a piece of galvanized wire and paper mache for handle.  Last week I rendered two sketches of Chopin after the painting on the picture, which I  deliberately printed small. Lanteri emphasizes the need to simplify wherever possible. The most dominant features should be captured in most part without much detail. I think Chopin has some very strong features on this portrait, features that I like, so hopefully that will help keeping my interest.









I’m using air dry clay. The pencils help with rolling out the clay evenly. The clay is very soft, so I covered it with cling wrap. It won’t stick to the rolling pin. Thickness is about 1/4″ as I don’t know at this point how much the clay will shrink. It seems a bit too thick.











Most coins/medallions are between 2-4 inches in size traditionally. I chose 3 inches. I cut out the shape in paper in advance. I’m using the pin tool to cut out the shape in clay.











This is how it looks. The clay is too soft for the relief, so I left it dry a bit, for about 1/2 hrs.











I draw the basic shape of the design.











The base is still too soft, so I softened the piece for the relief even more, which made it muddy and difficult to place the tiny pieces in just the right spot. Lanteri suggests building up the clay from thin at the edges to thicker in the middle.

Next time I’ll have to remember to let the base dry covered in plastic for a day. It needs to harden a bit more.

An hour later the relief is still too soft to work it, so it has to wait until tomorrow.

See day 2 progress here:

~ by erikatakacs on May 20, 2009.

3 Responses to “Chopin medallion 1: Day 1”

  1. Erika:
    It looks like you don’t need Lanteri to proceed. You have your own good ideas. A good demo.

    I have his book too and I learned a lot from it. Of course he didn’t have that air-drying clay you work with. He recommended wax because of clay’s rapid drying out. You are going to have to work fast. Actually, later in the chapter Lanteri recommends skipping soft material and working directly in plaster. You draw (scratch) your design on a plaster plate and then carve away, as if it were soft stone. That sounds difficult at first but you see its advantages as soon as you get working on it. You can wet the plaster to make it soft. When you’ve got some relief that pleases you more or less you make a plaster negative of it and work on the negative. You can smooth the rough edges with a wet cloth and even the flat areas by rubbing the plaster plate on sandpaper. Cheese graters and carpenters’ planes, the kind with sharp holes, are also good instruments for cutting away big areas of excess plaster. Lanteri tells how he walks around the studio while working on the medallion in order to see it in light from all angles.
    Are you going to put some writing on this?
    Can’t wait to see stage two.

  2. Lanteri is very good for guidance, but he discourages considering his way as the only right way. The book could have spared me much frustration and waste of time as I was and still am “groping in the dark” a lot as he puts it.

    I keep the clay soft enough with periodical spraying, hopefully it won’t take weeks to finish this! I knew it was going to be hard, but it’s 10 times harder than I thought it would be. Hopefully I won’t throw in the towel prematurely. I can’t. But I won’t kill myself over likeness either. Today I looked at a lot of Chopin portraits, no two are the same. And when I compare them to his only photograph, none is even close in likeness. Most artists’ treatment of Chopin is very liberal to put it mildly. I’m most impressed with his strong nose that dominates his face, but even that is different on the various versions. The tip of the nose on my picture is a bit confusing to me, so I tried to compare it to other pictures without much success.

    Thanks for the plaster carving idea, if this doesn’t work out, I might give it a try. I don’t know what else I’m going to put on the medallion. I might just use the head because it’s just the right size for a pendant which it will be in the end. IF it works out.

  3. At least some bloggers can still write. Thank you for this read!!

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