Have you ever thought of modelling your characters? Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby gave a fascinating Illustration Masterclass on Bringing Your Characters to Life last week.  Niki Leonidou was there and offers this report. 

I had the great pleasure to attend a very interesting workshop at the House of Illustration on Saturday, 14 March. Jeff Crosby, an amazing illustrator author from Texas, USA facilitated the masterclass with the right mix of humour and expertise. Just as the title reads, Jeff showed us how to take our 2D character drawings and create 3D clay models from those drawings.

During the introduction, I learned that you can make a maquette out of a variety of materials, wire, fabric, paper, clay, or wax. The list was so long! It can be a character, a vehicle, a fantasy creature, anything really. 

Different types of clay that can be used to make your maquette.

Why make a maquette? Your maquette benefits your illustration by giving your character drawing a 3D dimension, providing different perspectives for referencing imagery for your story. It also provides the freedom to play with light, and most important, when illustrating a picture book, consistency of character. I have often struggled with keeping consistency in my character throughout a book. For example, a few years back I wanted to make a horse standing on its two back legs from different perspectives for self promotion work. My first thoughts were, how on earth can I do that? I searched through the internet, went to a museum in order to find 3D references of horses in this pose. The result was not satisfying.

Busy, busy! Here we all are building armatures and sculpting our maquettes.

After the introduction came the really fun part. Making our own maquette! We began with making an armature of modelling wire and aluminium foil, giving our characters both skeleton and shape. Then we skinned the foil and wire with clay, adding in features and textural elements from our character drawings. This process is necessary due to the heaviness of the clay and for oven baked or air hardened clay, its best not to go over a centimetre of thickness to add in drying and prevent cracking.

Bridget Marzo’s character study in the making of a small girl with a stick, done to help with consistency.

When I began my maquette I had no idea of what to make, so decided to let it evolve through the process. It turned out to be a man but not any ordinary man. His feet I decided to give a more unique element allowing him to walk in snow or swim in the sea. 

After finishing my maquette, I found I could place it anywhere in the outside world, in a car park, the woods, anywhere you like and automatically the maquette existed in a different world all its own. Each maquette had its own universe!

Niki Leonidou’s character ready to bake!

The last thing we did before the masterclass finished was bake our characters in a toaster oven Jeff brought for this purpose. Now I have my maquette at home waiting for me to paint him and let him tell me his story!

Fabulous line-up of characters created in the Masterclass.

(Header image, sculpts and artwork by Jeff Crosby)


Niki Leonidou has been an illustrator since 2001 with books published in Greece, the US and UK. Her picture book, Looking for Misty, was nominated for the Keycolours Award for Best Picture book Concept in Belgium, 2014. Website: Find her on Twitter at @NikiLeonidou.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds intriguing, I have all those materials so will probably give this a go. thanks for the report Niki.


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