Sculpture: The Probe

Paper mache, size 16″x6″.
This was a very interesting project for me as it evolved from a simple concept to a more involved process that unexpectedly demanded the inclusion of found objects and painting. My experiments in assemblage and mixed media painting lead me there and I was very excited to be able to compile all that I learned in one piece. Another objective of mine was to produce something surreal and satirical that allowed for weird and bizarre ideas. Maybe this will be a good direction for me. Time will tell.
I thought I would show a little bit of the process in this post.
I wanted an elevated base, but wasn’t sure where could I get one, so I decided to make my own by pouring plaster in a cardboard. I had some mixed plaster from years ago, somewhat hardened to a consistency of soft clay which was great because the paper didn’t get too soggy. The other good thing about plaster is that it adds much needed weight.

For armatures I usually use galvanized wire from the hardware store and use aluminum foil as filler. Masking tape holds the foil together.

It’s very important to get the gesture right on the armature and get as much detail in as possible. If not, a good part of the later steps will be spent on adjusting and fixing and lots of frustration. I learned this the hard way.
As you can see on the next picture I don’t use armature support because I like to look at the piece from as many angles as possible. If the paper mache gets soggy, I let it dry for half a day and continue when it’s strong enough to hold the piece together.

I usually start by putting on lumps of soft paper mache around the waist area, as this helps with estimating proportions. Yes– since I do elongated figures most of the tim–I do eyeball a lot. This also may be due to my aversion to mathematical and geometrical measurements. It makes things harder but that’s the way I like to do it.

As mentioned above, sometimes I just need to let some body parts air dry before I can continue. If so, I cover the other parts with plastic to keep them soft. Sorry about the pose on the next pic, it was purely coincidental. Really.

I needed to see how the figure would look on the base and what adjustments were needed for keep the pose as natural as possible.

On the next picture you can see the hardened paper mache. Although I like to keep the consistency of the material the same, and progress at the same pace, sometimes unforseen and unpredictable events halt the process. In this case I knew the break was going to be longer than desireable, and the mache would be dry by the time I would be back to it for full sessions, so I decided to work on small areas, manageable in short sessions. One arm, one leg at the time. It was much harder to work this way, but had no choice.

The finished figure on the next picture:

At this stage I decided the figure was a bit bland, it needed more. I knew I wanted to paint it but wasn’t sure how. I used a watercolour sketch for my next idea, and I decided to go ahead with it, though it seemed risky in many ways.

I was weary of the painting overtaking the form, so I kept the pattern only on the head, one shoulder and arm, which added the needed interest but didn’t get in the way of the overall form.

Now my attention turned to the base itself, that needed to be connected more with the figure and the action of the hands. Since the title was The Probe, I thought electronic, digital references would make sense:

As a last step I added the black tie and decided the work was finished. All I had to do epoxy all the parts on the base.
Here is the finished work:


12 thoughts on “Sculpture: The Probe

  1. giiid May 6, 2010 / 14:05

    That was absolutely interesting to follow the process, once more you have made a beautiful and original piece of art. The snake idea is brilliant, and I am a bit surprised to see how acceptable – well almost natural- it looks. It is a very well proportioned sculpture, in my oppinion, and so creative made.


  2. erikatakacs May 7, 2010 / 14:05

    Glad to hear you like it, Birgitte. It ended up a bit creepier than I expected.


  3. hiddenamongroots May 14, 2010 / 14:05

    Such an awesome sequence of photos of your progress. Thanks for doing that! I found the armature very interesting. Did you have an idea in a sketch before you began? How intuitive is the process?


  4. erikatakacs May 15, 2010 / 14:05

    It always starts with an idea. I let it develop for a while in my head. If it’s good, sticks, if not, I forget about it. I pretty much work it out in my head, no need for sketches for most part. Then the real work starts with the making of the armature. And this is where intuition kicks in, just by trying to get the right gesture. An accidental pose might lead to a totally different direction. If this happens, I make up the new narrative as I go. So the final product might not even resemble the original idea. It’s an exciting process. If everything would go as planned in advance, I think I would get bored very easily, but letting things go astray makes it fun.


  5. ildiko June 21, 2010 / 14:05

    i intended to leave you a comment long before but it seems for the moment i just have to be contented with my mobile lol.
    i can see that nothing succeed by chance here,everything is well contemplated and strictly following your is freaky but a gorgeous’s amazing the strength of your skinny sculptures due to conception,pose,mimics.and….LOVE the stone texture!
    a papir paszta hagyomanyos hazi recept?vagy u.n paper clay?mivel szinezted a masszat?ugy latom mintha ket szinu masszanak koszonheto a bor szovet strukturaja.vagy festes tehnika?bocs,a sok kerdes miatt..
    megegyszer gratulalok!


  6. erikatakacs June 22, 2010 / 14:05

    Thanks Ildi, it is indeed a very conceptual piece.
    Bolti receptről van szó. A neve Celluclay, ilyen a színe. Az elszíneződés annak köszönhető, hogy pótolnom kellett itt-ott a száradás miatt összehúzodott masét. Megtetszett a kinézete, és nem is lakkoztam le. Sokan azt gondolják, cement.
    Nagyon megszerettem ezt a fajta masét, könnyebben lehet vele dolgozni, mint a fehér ragacsossal. Ebben valamilyen olaj is lehet, mert nem tapad és jól formálható.
    Kérdezz bármit, nem probléma, nagyon szívesen válaszolok, ha tudok.


  7. hiddenamongroots July 2, 2010 / 14:05

    I’m wondering how you seal it to keep it from absorbing moisture. Do you use the linseed oil and bake it in, or do you use something else?


  8. erikatakacs July 2, 2010 / 14:05

    I did not seal this piece. I was worried that the sealer would distroy the nice discolouration of the mache. Usually matte Mod Podge is my favourite sealer.


  9. Distance Landaverde February 9, 2012 / 14:05

    As a woman I often wonder why is it I am constantly looking inside myself, looking for inspiration, looking for a better way not necessarily a faster way,…a more creative way and that is why this speaks to me. I also like it because how it could relate to the sciences on an artistic level probing, searching, looking and it seems that more times than not its right there; in front of us yet we cannot see the most obvious…



  10. erikatakacs February 10, 2012 / 14:05

    Hi Distance! I don’t think it’s gender related, it is the artist in you losing herself in introspection. It is a necessary process for any creative activity regardless of gender.
    Thanks for liking the piece, I actually added another figure to it, I think it’s more complete as it stands now.


  11. zenschoolforcreatives June 23, 2016 / 14:05

    Hi Erika, I am a graduating Fine Arts student and need to make about 6 papier mache figurines for a project to be assessed at the end of the year. I really like your figures yet do not understand your process. Do you start the figures with wire and cover them with aluminium foil kept in place with masking tape? It looks like you then cover them with plaster. Am I correct? I am a painter, not a sculptor so am
    not looking to appropriate. Thank you and cheers from Australia 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. erikatakacs July 4, 2016 / 14:05

    Yes, you are correct on all but the last presumption. It’s not plaster, but paper mache clay I am using. The commercial brand is Celluclay, but you can make your own as well. There are lots of recipes circulating on the net. Good luck with your project!

    Liked by 1 person

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