Thursday, December 4, 2014


I have a confession to make- as a kid I never built models. There was something about the glue and the paint that always scared me away from it. So when I decided that I would start creating three dimensional buildings I should have been at a disadvantage. However, watching my father build toys and models when I was a kid showed me how put things together. I also understood the importance of carefully planning before starting something.

One of the model houses my father built from scratch about 30 years ago

For as far back as I can remember I wanted to try to build a  model house from scratch. I had a couple of options and every once in a while I thought "It would be cool to do this..." or  " When I do that..." Walking through an art supply store I would stop and look at illustration board and foam core board- the former was what my father used to build toys and models, and the later what what I used when I had an interior design class at Loyola University. Finally I bought the materials and decided that I would build a series of buildings. The first being the house I grew up in. If all went well then I would do more. If not, I would abandon the whole thing.

My old house was a perfect choice to start with for a number of reasons. It was a fairly simple construction- a bungalo with a basement, which meant that it would not be a massive structure. Also, I knew it well: where every room window, door and closet was and how that corresponded to the overall look on the outside. Lastly, although the house is still standing and somewhat recognizable from the time I lived there, significant changes to the look of both the front and the back have been made, which meant that I would be relying not only on photographs that were 20 years old, but my own memory had to fill in the blanks of what no longer exists and what was not in the photos. That made it a fun challenge.
Three of the four existing photos of what the house looked like
from the  outside when I lived there

The house as it currently stands, The front and back porches  had both been replaced
and the siding changed in the back

The last reason was a little more personal. My mother had bought the house less then a month before I started high school. Teenage years are significant in any persons life, and mine were no different. In the ten years that I lived there, I went to high school, got my first job, went to college, and decided what I was going to do as a career. There were a lot  of first, and significant, life experiences that made me who I am today. In addition to that, and more significantly, I lost both of my parents while living there. I tend to be nalstalgic about people and places and creating a minature that house I had a personal stake to get it right and accurate.

I found almost right away that fate was on my side. When I was looking for pictures of it online I found that the house had recently been sold and that the floorplans were available. That made the initial stages of this project easy because I didn't have to guess how big this room was to that one and how they related to the third. It was all right there.

The house plans I found online. Though the living room
was smaller when I lived there, the size of the house and placement
of the windows allowed me to set the correct proportions.

The first step was to draw the outside walls and create a paper model. This was really important becaue I was able to see some of the potential problems that would pop up and solve them before actually starting. I also could see what was missing in photos and memory and work to solve it.

My initial paper model along with the floor plans

Probably the most important step after creating the first paper model was to go over to the actual house and see where I was right and where I got it wrong. As stated above both the front and the back were significantly different from the time I lived there, however, there were things that didn't change and those were the things I was interested in. I took pictures over the high back fence and around the sides where I could. Those pictures really filled in the blanks. After that I created the second, more accurate, paper house.

Photos like this were invaluable because
I was able to see how the windows were laid out
on the side of the house.

Once I was satisfied that I had it right I started the construction of the actual model. In addition to the illustration and foam core board, I bought balsa wood, siding, and paint. Then I transfered my drawings into the illustration board and started cutting. Illustratation board is an incredibly tough surface. It's hard to cut and very sturdy. I was lucky to find siding that matched that of the house. Through photos it was clear that the siding on the front was smaller then the siding on the back. so I had to use 2 different kinds.

The two paper models and the start of the real thing.

The first thing built was the front and back porches. They were the most difficult parts of the house and I decided to get them out of the way first. I found that I ended up monkeying around with them after I got the rest of the house built, because their dimensions changed due to the material I was using. Foam core is thicker then illustration board and the siding ended up making everything even bigger. These things were unaccounted for in the paper model.

The completed front and back porches

Once the porches were built everything went easier. Siding was added to the wall pieces and painted, the windows and doors were created, and everything was glued together. The back of the house in reality was an add on- an enclosed back porch that was turned into a sunroom/bedroom. Because it was separate, I treated it separate, adding it onto the rest of the house after the main portion was completed. The top of the add on juts out from the bottom, which added challenges during construction ( also unaccounted for in the paper model), Once everything was built the roof was added.

Adding siding to the pieces

Lastly, I added a front lawn and some bushes. These do not exist on the property as it now stands, so I again consulted the old photos.

The actual house circa. 1994 and the model

Overall this was a really fun project to work on. Besides being able to create something from scratch, I got to relive some of my memories of my teenage years while doing it. The next project will be a tad more ambitious but just as much fun. I'm going to construct the apartment building I lived in from the time I was in college to the time I got married. It is about twice the size of the house- three stories up. I can't wait!

My next project

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Growing up I was always surrounded by paintings, home made models, and sculptures. One of my favorite memories was the gigantic canister my father always had of  a type of grey clay. I would sit at his drawing board with a big lump of it, along with assorted sculpting tools, and try to make things. Nothing I did was really all that great, but I had fun. I can remember the way it smelled, how my fingers looked when it would dry on them, and all the things I wanted to make with it.

When I decided to try sculpting, I honestly didn't know how it would turn out. In my mind's eye, I envisioned the unstructured mess I made with clay as a kid. Instead I found a different way of learning how to draw.

In an earlier post I mentioned doing three dimension anatomic studies with clay. In addition to this, I wanted to learn how to create with clay. I went to the art supply store and bought a package of it but wasn't really sure where to begin. I had been doing quick sketches and a little bit of painting at the Palette And Chisel Academy Of Fine Art. They also offer not only classes for sculpture, but also open studios for members to sculpt from a live model. 

The way it works at the Palette And Chisel is this- each scultptor has their own little table with wheels. The view  is of one side of the figure, which is worked on for a while. Once that view is done, the sculptor moves around to a different side. This allows the artist to render the figure from every angle. This is far different that merely drawing a two-dimensonial representation from one side.  Not only is the artist able to see the figure from all sides, the literal hands on shaping of the clay allows for a better understanding of how the body is put together. It brings about a total change in the perception of the figure in general.  In understanding the figure, The artist also understands anatomy better.

The front of my first sculpture.
I worked on her for approximately 4 sessions, 5 hours per session.
The back of my first sculpture

My second sculpture started as a "quick sketch" That carried over
for 4 full session. This one was a little different: a standing pose requiring
an armature to prevent it's collapse.

 In addition to approximately 20 hours of sculpting, I also did a couple of "quick sketch" sculptures. These were sculptures that were worked on for only a couple hours before moving onto the next pose.  The most interesting of these was done for the Palette & Chisel's involvement in the Chicago Architecture Tour's Open House, in which people are invited to visit different buildings throughout the Windy City. The P&C participated by having open galleries, as well as painting, drawing, and sculpting demonstrations. Our model had on a vintage wedding dress which made the sculpt more interesting. Instead of a month of complete it, however, mine had to be done in one 6 hour session. I ended up working a little smaller than I had previously.

Overall, I've found the entire experience of sculpting extremely beneficial. Not only has it allowed me to try something completely different, it's also changed the way I draw. It is far easier to imagine the form in 3-D: making sure the planes of the face are correct and thinking about what a foreshortened figure may be hiding on it's other side. This has allowed me to envision the figure as a whole, with depth and character - taking me away from a flat representation. I am able to understand the human body more, which only improves my work.

Monday, September 1, 2014


When I was growing up I loved the tv show M*A*S*H. Channel 32 (WFLD Chicago) played it at 6:00 and 10:00 at night for years. I watched it at both times as well as it's first run network slot at 8:00 P.M. on Mondays ( meaning that in the days before videotape I got to watch the show 3 times on Monday). Right around the time the show ended in 1983, they released action figures of the show's characters. I bought them all.

The M*A*S*H action figures and vehicles put out but Tristar International

My official M*A*S*H dog tags. These were especially neat because as a
kid I would wear my father's World War 2 dog tags when I would visit him
on the weekends. When I got these I actually had a set of my own.

The toys were put out by a company called Tristar International Limited. Along with the action figures there was other merchandise, such as dog tags, jeeps, ambulances, and helicopters. After acquiring all of the merchandise only one thing remained- an army camp for the figures to live in.

Tristar had created one that could be found in stores. This is what it looked like:

Their action figures were really well sculpted, but their camp looked like cheap plastic. My father and took a long look at it during a stroll through Toys-R-Us . He picked it up off the shelf and said " You know, I think I can build you a better camp than this."

This was no idle boost. Ray Larson had spent his parental life making things for his children and grandchildren ranging from Wizard Of Oz costumes to Star Wars toys and everything in between. We went home and he started compiling photos form the M*A*S*H show in books and trading cards that I owned. This was before the internet ( before we had a VCR as a matter of fact )so his task was a little more difficult then it would be today.

In the pre-video tape era Poppy subjected himself the the M*A*S*H
 title sequence at least twice a day in order to get a feel of what
the camp looked like from this overview shot at the beginning of every episode

One of the things Poppy liked about the Tristar toy that was manufactured for the figures was that it folded up and easily was put away. He decided to do the same thing. Where the company had used plastic, however, he used illustration board ( as he did with most of his 3D creations).

This is the inside of the tent roofs. They were designed so that
each individual roof would fit inside another roof.

The 4 walls of the tents were connected by cloth
that could fold without being torn, then held together
at one end by velcro. The end result was 4 walls
that folded up into one flat piece and reassembled again
with no fuss.
The first thing Poppy did was make a list of what was to be made. Four tents: The Swamp ( home of Hawkeye, BJ, and Winchester), Col. Potter, Fr. Mulcahy, and Hot Lips. Also an office, Operating Room, and Post Op Ward (Later a Mess tent was added). In addition to the tents, there were the things that went into the tents. These consisted of miniature beds, tables, chairs, desks, stoves, and operating tables.
 Mess Tent had  tables with condiments and trays built onto them,
benches for the figures to sit and the area where food was served.

Each tent had at least one bed, a table or desk, foot locker and a stove. 
The oxygen tanks and operating table for the OR.

Once completed, the M*A*S*H camp was an achievement such as I had never seen before and since. The figures had a home to live in and I had a something that was far superior to what was being sold in the stores. When the series ended, Newsweek published this map of the camp, and I set my camp up to match it.

On the surface the camp looked pretty real:

Inside the tents things were happening too:

the Operating Room
The Post Op Ward

Inside the Swamp

It's been over thirty years since my father created this camp.  I recently pulled it out and assembled it for the first time in 20 years. It needs a couple of repairs here and there but overall it has remained in overall good shape. Pretty good for something that was created with Illustration board, tracing paper, and Elmer's Glue.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


For the past year I've been stretching my boundaries as an artist. I've experimenting with painting, figure drawing techniques, and design. In an attempt to go a little further and learn something valuable along the way, I've decided to start sculpting

I bought some clay from the art supply store and took it home, where it remains in the box untouched. I honestly had no clue how to start.  I realized I would have to do something soon when a co-worker gave me some of his leftover oil-based (never drying) clay. 

My father sculpted all the time while I was growing up, but I never really tried it myself ( randomly playing with clay as a kid doesn't really count).  The Palette & Chisel Academy Of Fine Art has open studio sculpting from a live model, in addition to quick sketch figure drawing. While I wanted to go try that, I thought it might be a good idea to practice first.  I had a small skull model that I bought for reference about a year ago, so I decided to recreate that in clay.

Once I completed it, I thought that it might be neat to put the individual facial muscles on it. I consulted a couple of anatomy books to see how to go about adding the muscles.

Because the skull was my first creation I was reluctant to cover it up. I also worried that the non-drying clay could get messy if I started adding to it so I decided to add the muscles onto the model skull. Here are the results:


I found the neck muscles so challenging that I had to consult multiple anatomy books for the sides and under the chin. It was fun, but tough. 



One of the results of this exercise is that I am finding that the way I draw heads is changing. Creating something in 3-D puts a different perspective on the object and that change is reflected into the drawings. My drawn heads seem rounder and more solid then before. They feel more real.

Because I the fun I had and the lessons learned for the head, I have decided to do the same with the entire figure. Stay tuned...