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Making of a Bullfinch

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The primary purpose of creating this sculpture was to try out a few techniques I will be using on future projects. Especially string jointing, which will be used for a large-scale project that’s currently very high on my priority list, felting-wise, but also the use of sculpted clay components for felted objects. The bullfinch is also a culturally significant bird in Sweden, which played into my decision to do this specific species of bird.

The core for the headless sculpture (the head couldn’t be finished until the beak dried, as the beak had wool worked into the back of it and was to be felted in) was made in front of the TV one evening. In fact, the entirety of the bullfinch was made in front of the TV, making its way through most of CSI:NY. One of the primary complications in this early stage was keeping the bird out of the cats’ reach.

Once the beak dried, which took somewhere around 48 hours, the finch no longer had to be headless. The beak was sculpted out of an air-drying product called Silk Clay, which has a strange, rubbery texture somewhat resemblant of what bubblegum looks like (I don’t chew gum myself, and touching things that have been in other people’s mouths isn’t really my thing, so I can only guess there). Even when dry it has an ever-so-slight bit of give, and it weighs very little wet or dry; I’d hazard papier mache is actually heavier than this stuff.

The first part of his body to get color was his wings – as a matter of fact I suspect I did the finishing on the wings before the head, but this makes more sense as narration. The wings are fairly thick even before adding the color layer; this guy never was and never will be a realistic bullfinch, just a cutesy stylized one. Adding the color seemed to primarily firm them up, though it did make them noticeably thicker, as well.

The beak was painted with two layers of professional-grade black nail polish before adding color to the body, and the red areas of his body got some shading with a darker red, especially around the cheeks and chin. The area around the beak turned out to eat more wool than I’d expected, since felting it in tended to push it in between the beak and the rest of the head, but eventually, I managed to get it felted in securely.

I actually ended up ripping the white core roving feet off his legs and trimming the legs a little before putting the black on his feet; it was a good idea in theory, but in practise using a core on small fiddly bits probably actually ends up using more wool than just doing it colored from the get-go, and it ends up bulkier. In this photo he’s just pinned together, and doesn’t yet have his eyes, as I didn’t have a thick enough needle at home to take the waxed linen thread for jointing him, nor any beads large enough for his eyes.

All through the construction process, the cats showed plenty of interest in my work, and it ended up being difficult to get photos of the finished product without either getting a cat in the frame or having them snatch the bird entirely.

Finally, another angle of the finished bullfinch. The eyes are 8mm beads sewn into his head; I’m not sure whether they are semi-precious stone beads or glass beads, but I do know they’re not plastic, and they have a wonderful sheen to them that photos do not do justice.

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