Skin/Skóra: making a maquette for Misz

I already have a wolf maquette to help me create one of Misz Ajdacki’s tattoos for Skin/Skóra…

… but decided that I’d need a bear maquette too, to aid me with the design that will mirror the wolf on the opposite shoulder.


Not quite finished yet, but here it is in process. The white paper shapes are the patterns I’ve devised, and the blue ones are the finished pieces worked in pencil. The maquette is held together with many sliding attachments on the reverse, to give me lots of flexibility with regard to positions it can be moved into. There is a profile head as well as a full-face.

Once the maquette has been completed, then I will begin exploring poses for it prior to making sketches to present to Misz.

contemporary artists/illustrators and the paper maquette

Above and below: maquette of a dragon and a detail of the cover of Glimmerglass for which it was used.

My work-table is presently strewn with paper maquettes of beasts as I bring the cover artwork of Marly Youman’s new novel, Glimmerglass, to completion. So this seems like a good moment to introduce the work of two contemporary artists/illustrators I admire, who also use versions of paper maquettes as part of their processes.

Above: from A Crocodila Mandona illustrated by Marta Madureira. Published by Tcharan. 2010

Marta Madureira is a Portugese illustrator from Oporto. At the most recent count she has sixteen books to her credit, and has been the recipient of many prestigious awards. Her illustrations are in an expressive combination of techniques that include print-making and collage. Madureira also makes wonderful, vibrantly coloured paper maquettes. Here are a few of them.

Above: cover art-work by Marta Madureira for Mocho Comi. Published by Tcharan. 2012

Morteza Zahedi is an Iranian artist and illustrator living in Tehran. He has produced images for several children’s books, and his illustrations have been extensively exhibited at the Bologna Book Fair. In common with my own practice, there would seem to be a connection between Zahedi’s cut-out (maquette) figures, and the painted works that spring from them. (I think it clear, too, that we’re both engaging with issues of positive/negative space, and a kind of pattern-making.) Below I’ve posted images of the artist’s wonderful series of interlocking horses, and some of his maquettes that I think must have been their origins.

Below: Morteza Zahedi maquettes of horses

Just to underline the interests in ‘image dissection’ I share with Zahedi,  here is a stage of maquette-making I took a quick snapshot of in 2012 while working on figures for The Soldier’s Tale. Although this was just an image made for my own pleasure (and for the blog), I carefully laid out the individual pieces to make an interesting composition. Moreover I made further, more randomly interlocking compositions, that I photographed before finally assembling the figure.

Below: to end today’s post, Zahedi’s beautiful cover for his children’s book, 1000 Animaux. Published by RMN

Being an artist can be a pretty solitary occupation. I work alone in an isolated studio in rural West Wales. Every day at my desk and easel I labour away at problem-solving, and my use of maquettes as a part of that process has evolved over a period of just over a decade. It’s interesting to come upon other arts practitioners using techniques similar to my own. All three of us make maquettes as compositional tools, and yet what emerges from the three studios is so diverse, each artist’s work unlike the others.

hervé and the negative space

At the easel, a new painting of Hervé and the Wolf is underway, a rather formal work, rooted in shape, colour and texture. The colour is limited to a sea of blue against black with some islands of off-white, though I’m sanding back in places where I want that shock of red oxide under paint, like a bloody graze.

It’s the element of intimacy and touch that drives this piece. The points of contact suggested by the slivers of overlap as the wolf presses into blind Hervé’s neck, and the back of Hervé’s hand nudges the hair on the wolf’s foreleg.

Above and below: transparency, disconnect, the ebb and flow of fur, an absence of gravity and the electrical charge of touch. The oddness of a dream.

I’m obsessed with negative space. Put simply, if the negative spaces aren’t working, I feel an unease close to nausea. At this point I have to keep tweaking and shifting things until the nausea stops. Then I know that everything is fine. If a negative space is a centimetre out… or less… a hairsbreadth (when I was a boy I mistook that phrase as ‘hare’s breath’, which works just as well)… then I have to keep working until I’ve resolved the problem. It doesn’t matter in the least if this drops a shoulder to the wrong place anatomically, or means that one hand is bigger than it ought to be. All that matters is that the negative space stops shouting at me.

The painting started with new maquettes of Hervé and his wolf which I then used to make a number of rough compositional sketches on paper…

… before laying out an underdrawing on panel.

The wolf, quite small as a maquette

 has grown bigger for the painting.