For our project “Caged,” I created a set of gilded birds that appeared to be made of sheet metal, yet were actually made of chipboard and were very light weight. The reason for this construction is because a model needed to be able to comfortably hold them for long periods of time and we also needed to be able to hang them from filament in a variety of positions.
I began by creating forms out of cheap decor crows found at any crafting store all year round. The hard, hollow plastic of the fake birds was ideal becasue I could easily cut it and reattach it with masking tape to create new shapes. As needed, I covered the forms with newsprint (I prefer phone books) to thicken, bulk up and smooth areas. (Worth noting, I learned my techniques for creating under structures from paper mache artist Dan Reeder.)
Once the forms were constructed, I glued a thin layer of tissue paper over the form with a basic uncooked wheat paste. It is very affordable, stores for up to a month with refrigeration and easy to mix. Additionally, it dries very hard. I did this so I would have a smooth solid, but flexible surface on which to glue the cardboard feathers.
One of the forms being coated with wheat pasted tissue paper.
RECIPE: Mix together approx 4 parts water + 1 part PVA glue (“all purpose” Elmer’s). Then slowly add all purpose flour until the mix is like pancake batter. Thick but still runny. Mix it REALLY well with a whisk to get rid of all the lumps. If made the day before use, the flour completely dissolves and there are less specs. I mix quart sized batches and store them in the fridge for up to a month.
Two of the forms covered in wheat pasted tissue.
The next step was to cut about two million chipboard feathers (give or take a few) and then glue them to the forms with hot glue. The chipboard can be found at any art store and most craft stores, it should be solid & smooth, not corrugated cardboard.
For the most part, I’d come up with a basic shape I liked and then I replicated it over and over by just tracing a master piece. For the heads, I would make one side, copy it, and then glue the other side in reverse (as in, cut the shape and flip it around). To keep track of where I was, I would draw the basic pattern on the form before I started gluing. To replicate the way feathers grow, I started at the base and overlapped the feathers as I moved along the forms.
Drawing the pattern on the form.
Wing under construction.
Tail under construction.
Body feathers. Scissors show scale.
Unpainted ‘released’ bird with all it’s feathers in place – view 1
Unpainted ‘released’ bird with all it’s feathers in place – view 2
To make the feet more realistic, I carefully scored each toe joint with an exacto blade, then repositioned the toe and held it in place with a liberal coating of hot glue. Once painted, the glue looked even better than the original knuckle.
WIP bird’s feet after repositioning (left) and after painting (right).
Next step was to paint the birds. I prefer the Ralph Lauren Regent Metallics house paint. It’s expensive at $60-80 per gallon, but really worth it. It’s very shimmery and reflects light in a way very similar to true matt metals. Below are a few shots that I pushed from my instagram “behind the scenes” account that show the painted birds on set.
There is also a write up on how we built the set for this series here under “mise en scene – set building.”
in the shot below, you can see how we suspended the bird with filament so it would balance on the model’s arm.
Below compares the WIP bird prior to painting (left) and how it looked in the final image (right).
Unpainted WIP bird (left). Detail from final “Caged” image (right).
Below are the final images we created as part of our “Caged” series.