making a maquette

Maquette for Equus ‘special edition’.

A friend who would like to make a maquette of her own design, has e-mailed asking how I go about constructing mine. This is a hard one to explain as it’s become an intuitive process for me. What I don’t do is make a finished drawing that I then cut up. That can’t work, because the components of the maquette need ‘overlaps’ in order to look correctly proportioned when assembled. Instead, starting with the head and neck, I begin cutting a template in thin paper that I ‘fill in’ with the briefest drawing as I go along. After I’ve got the head and neck pinned together successfully, come the shoulders, torso and arms. The hips and legs are fitted on, and finally I make the hands and feet. At each stage I cut the shapes freehand. Indeed there is much cutting, testing and adjusting for animation potential, then throwing away and re-cutting in order to get each part and its relationship to its neighbour just right. When this flimsy template is complete to my satisfaction, I label the back of each piece so that when I take it apart in order to use it as the pattern for the final, painted card version, I will know how to fit everything together. This labelling is vital as there can be upward of sixteen components in a single figure, quite a few of them confusingly similar, and the parts of a disarticulated maquette can be really difficult to identify and assemble correctly without a guide. Once I’ve made the card version of the maquette and fitted it with paper-fasteners, then I paint and assemble it.

When the Old Stile Press commissioned me to make images for the illustrated edition of Sir Peter Shaffer’s play Equus, we decided to do a very few ‘special’ copies that came boxed with a number of extra features. Each box contained an original drawing from my Equus notebooks, and an editioned lino-print that did not appear in the book. There was also an Equus maquette for each box, together with two printed sheets of the component parts, so that enterprising owners could cut up and assemble a figure for themselves. (I wonder whether anyone did.) I didn’t include instructions because there was the accompanying ‘made up’ version to copy. Here are images of the sheets that when cut out can be assembled into the Equus figure at the top of this post. If anyone decides to print them out and make up a maquette, do let me know how you get on. You’ll need to paste the paper print-outs onto thin card first, and purchase some paper fasteners from a stationary shop. I hide the paper fasteners by securing them at the backs of the maquette parts with small paper patches glued firmly in place. You need  fourteen paper-fasteners for the Equus figure.

The component in the bottom left corner of the first sheet is glued into place along its top edge at the back of the figure, and this helps bulk out the torso at the join of chest to abdomen.

I trim the ‘arms’ of the paper-fasteners so that they’re only as long as needed. They’re made from very thin metal and I find I can cut them with a scissors once they’re in place. Just below centre and to the right can be seen one of the square paper patches glued into place to secure the paper-fastener heads.

Back of maquette showing how the pieces overlap.

There are  really are no short-cuts to the making of maquettes. The figures can be simple or complex, with few moving parts or many, but they are complicated to design and make. (The more moving parts there are, the larger the maquette needs to be, so that all the joints may be fitted in.) Figures can have only one point of view, of which there are these basic choices.

full frontal view
three quarter profile right
three quarter profile left
sideways facing right
sideways facing left
back view
three quarter profile right facing away
three quarter profile left facing away
Nude figures are harder to make because the anatomy is on show. (Clothes can cover a multitude of anomalies at the joint points, but even so have to be carefully worked out so that there is a sense of plausible anatomy beneath.) Trial and error is the only way to get good results. But practice really does improve results.

19 thoughts on “making a maquette

  1. It is fascinating to have an insight into how you make these, I’m very tempted to have a go at making my own! I love the film too, it’s wonderful to see them come alive.

  2. There’s something of the divine about seeing what appear to be random, almost rock-like forms brought to-gether and brought to life. Clay made flesh. Animation, the kindling of animus, soul, the whisper of breath, into the life-less – it really is quite awesome to behold Clive. Thank you for sharing.

        • I purchased a copy when I first visited Prague. It was just the novel to be reading in a city where puppets cluster in countless shadowy interiors and the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square seethes with automata.

          Over the years there has been quite a fad for ‘Golem’ inspired literature. As well as the Meyrinck I’ve read two Golem-themed novels. Peter Ackroyd’s 1994 Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, which is only marginally about the Golem of myth, and Bari Wood’s 1981 The Tribe, which is not wonderfully written but kind of engaged me.

  3. There is something about your maquettes that drive me to create. Every time I watched the video that accompanied your maquette work at the National Library of Wales it put me into a trance like state of creative thought. I thank you for this and I will sorely miss wandering in and out of your mind’s avenues as it was displayed in the galleries of the library.

    • Hello Gerwyn. Nice to see you here.

      Oddly enough, I know exactly what you mean about the maquette film. It does have an hypnotic/trance-like quality. I noticed the first time Pete Telfer showed it to me. I think there are a number of reasons why.

      Marly Youmans, poet and author of the chapter on the ‘miracuous’ in the monograph, travelled from her home in New York State to Wales for the exhibition opening, arriving a week early so as to spend some time with us. Pete Telfer had already filmed the live-action linking footage for the film, and was waiting for me to come over to his place to record the narration, which was to be drawn from the chapter by another American contributor to the book, Kathe Koja. Kathe’s piece on maquettes was beautifully written… she’s an acclaimed novelist… but she was unable to come to Wales as she had to be in the US to complete a stage adaptation of her last book. I had supposed I would read her words myself, though intuition told me that an American accent would suit better, as would a woman’s voice. Enter Marly, who graciously agreed to stand in for Kathe. The sections of narration were recorded in Pete’s young daughter’s bedroom. (Thank you Alis!) With Pete… who is not built daintily… his recording machine and huge microphone plus Marly… who is dainty… crammed into the small toy-filled space, the only place left for me was a mattress on the floor, from where I offered occasional directions. (Marly says that I lay there in my sunglasses, which sounds very louche!) Marly is a ‘one-take’ kind of a girl, and it was her innate poet’s rhythm and dreamy, Southern-accented delivery that resulted, in part, in the hypnotic quality of the film. Pete had not initially been won over by the notion of a narration, but as soon as he heard his playback of Marly, he was enthusiastic to use the recordings.

      The other aspect that lends the hypnotic quality is the soundtrack Pete recorded at Ty Isaf on the beautiful Spring day he came to film the linking sections. The sash-window of the blue bedroom where we filmed was open, and as I hung the maquettes on thin thread in the aperture, we were surrounded by the sounds of nesting birds in the rookery beyond, a perfect accompaniment to the painted card figures swaying in the breeze. The first animation sequence by contrast is completely without sound, which further emphasises a dream-like state, because it feels as though the puppet is in an other-worldly vacuum. (My head?)

      Gerwyn, I’m delighted that you like Pete’s film so much. I think that it perfectly captured the spirit of the moment in the week before the exhibition opened, and it’s great that you ‘got it’. Everything about it was improvised, from the animation sequences made in a single afternoon and evening on our dining room floor and table (my partner Peter taking the stills while I animated the figures) to the last minute idea to film the maquettes on threads in the window. Pete is a guerilla-film-maker, enthusiastically throwing himself into the spirit of creativity wherever he finds it. The man is a force of nature! I shall copy him in to what you’ve written. I know he’ll be delighted. I’m not sure whether you know, but the film can be seen online at Culture Colony HERE.

      I’d also like to take the opportunity to say how much I enjoyed talking to you for those few minutes in the Library. What you said meant a great deal to me.

      • I really love the way you spell my name sometimes. I wish that I had gone back to the old spelling when I started publishing books because then people would know how to pronounce it properly! At least, anybody who knows what a “yeoman” is.

        Wish I had taken a picture of you flopped on your back in those sunglasses…

  4. Clive,
    I was really taken with the maquettes and the theatre at the National Library and would so like to try making one. Thanks for the ‘walk through’. Now all I need is an inspiring thought of what figure I’d like to create. I may try yours first and see if it looks anything like the original!

  5. I thought that was Zoe! Good luck to her…

    You know, we never thought about a film about the making of maquettes, but that would have been good as well… Would take long, though. You should stick in a link to the little movie where you manipulate the maquettes.

    Oh, I’m sticking up some batches of my pre-retrospective pictures. First one up today, right above the Irene mess.

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