Kitsch Figure Sculptures




Introduction: Kitsch Figure Sculptures

About: I've got a pulse, I'm walking upright and I can juggle at the same time.

Think of these sculptures as the acceptable face of the garden gnome, kitsch to the point of good taste, we want them gaudy, creepy, tastelessly ostentatious and indoors.

They are three dimensional cartoons performing one-liner jokes. Basically it is art that is understandable and affordable to the person in the street. They are a backlash against the stuff that passes for art in fancy galleries and costs a fortune to buy.

I have made some of these sculptures life size but that starts to get a bit expensive and they can take over the house. These we are about to make are no more than 21cm in height and the materials are cheap and easily obtained. Also they are not delicate things, the main body is held together with coat hanger wire and cloth, so they will bounce!

If you can, think of an idea where the person in the sculpture is doing something unusual; remember we are not after Michelangelo type accuracy here, the more like a caricature the better.

The illustrations are in chronological order but some of the items are different unfinished pieces. Unfortunately I didn't not have the foresight to photograph the sculptures in progress, but I will for future projects!

Step 1: Supplies and Tools

As you go along you will accrue and adapt tools but these are the basics.

Photographs and/or sketches of your subject
Wood for base, approx 14 cm square x 2 cm deep
Paints, acrylics, enamels or your decorating left-overs
Gloss varnish
Wire mesh: approx 5mm gauge
Gaffer or masking tape
PVA glue
2 cm panel pins
Scrap jewellery.
Bits of old toys (look in the bottom of a kids toy box!)
Various wire oddments, i.e. cables, fuse, picture hanging, clothes hangers etc
Strips of cloth (lots, cotton is best for soaking up the glue)
Good paintbrushes
Quick drying modelling clay

Wood drill
Utility knife
Wood chisel

And bags of creativity, not pictured (if I could instructable this I would be very rich)

Step 2: Bending the Coat Hanger.

Make an approximation of the figure shape with thick wire and cut to separate the legs. Make sure the leg sections are longer than the finished sculpture; the excess will be bent under the base for stability later.

If the figure is doing something complicated, like the juggler for instance - pictured in the intro - now would be the time to thread the objects together and secure to the arm wire.

They do tend to get in the way but it's more secure than trying to glue them on later. There is nothing more soul destroying than making something and then a few weeks later bits start dropping off!

Step 3: Constructing the Armature.

Armature is a fancy word arty types use for a framework that supports a sculpture while it is being modelled.

Twist the scraps of wire around the coat hanger, build this up until you have something approximating the human shape, or inhuman, depending on your subject matter.

Step 4: Wrapping

Twist the wire mesh around armature to add bulk and secure with thin wire. Think of the mesh as muscle, bulk up the figure only where you want it. Alternatively, gaffer or masking tape could be used, it depends on what you have at hand.

Begin wrapping the rags previously coated in PVA glue. Put plenty of cloth on, keep it tight and smooth it out as you go along.

Because you will be using lots of cloth I usually get a bowl of glue and soak the strips until needed. You can dilute the glue slightly to make it go further but not too much, otherwise it takes ages to dry.

Hang to drip-dry somewhere warm for 24 hours or as long as it takes. Now give the sculpture a few coats of left over gloss paint, this will stop later paints soaking into the cloth and it also strengthens the figure.

Step 5: Head and Hands.

Any modelling clay that dries without the use of heat will be fine. I use milliput, the putty-like substance plumbers and builders use, mix it half and half with kids plasticine, this makes it go further and it still dries rock hard.

I prefer to sculpt the head around something, it saves on clay. Those plastic balls inside beer/larger cans are good; they also have a hole in them for attaching to the body later (But remember folks, do not drink and sculpt at the same time, you never know what you may make! Usually a mess, I find). Wet tissue or paper squeezed to a hard ball will do, have a look round, see what you have handy.

Dont worry too much about detail first time round, just have fun. Pens/pencils, small screwdrivers lolly/popsicle sticks or matchsticks make good modelling tools. Make them as you go along and save for your next sculpting project.

Make the head and hands big and chunky, with just three or four fingers sticking out from the palm, we are talking bunches of bananas here, like in cartoons, so try not to get too fiddly with them at this stage. Push hands and head in place while still soft and position as desired.

Have a look at Yakeyglee Sept 23 06 instructable, thats good for showing how to make a clay head.

Step 6: Dressing the Figure.

Use bigger pieces of cloth for the clothing, but not like dressing a doll, just bigger strips. Dont worry if the cloth sticks out in places or is not smooth, when the glue dries just cut the offending bits off with a sharp craft knife or rub with sandpaper (PVA soaked cloth dries like cardboard).

Use small pieces of modelling clay to smooth out the gaps where you have trimmed away the excess, unless you want to make a feature of the ragged clothing, like zombies, tramps, Egyptian mummies or sculptors who give away their ideas to instructables, that sort of thing.

For detail like lapels, collars, ties etc use the modelling clay and smooth into place while still soft. The Mad Hatter shown here has a hat made from an old 35 mm film canister with rim and band made of clay.

As you can see, the boots are in place before he is attached to the base; to my cost I have found out this is a mistake. By the time you have pushed the wire through the base, bent it and knocked in the panel pins, the feet have usually broken off! I recommend you make the shoes, cut in half and push them together around the figure while still soft, after fitting the base.

Step 7: Fixing to Base.

Pictured is the underside of base, first drill holes where the main leg wire will come through. Then chisel the groves, the wire will bend into these so the base does not wobble.

Hammer and bend over panel pins around the wire to flatten and secure. I find the old cobbler technique best, grip the figure with your knees and hammer away at the base. This way your sculpture will not be crushed, unfortunately I can't say the same about anything else, so be careful when you are beating your base chaps!

When the sculpture is finished you can glue felt over the underneath to hide the wires and protect your furniture from scratches. There is nothing worse than a spiky bottom!

Step 8: Small Details, the Fun Bit.

This is where your old bits of jewellery, trinkets and broken toys are used. Small chains and bracelets make excellent.. er.. chains and bracelets! Look closely at any small plastic objects; you may see something different in them.

If you have the facilities try turning some chunky furniture on a lathe, like the stool legs with Alice in Wonderland on the left. If not don't despair, the Saxon princess's table and chair legs on the right were salvaged from some cheap lace making bobbins. Her foot is on a treasure chest, just visible. That's a small ring box filled with small beads and tiny trinkets.

The base was covered in lolly/popsicle sticks for a floorboard effect then stained with left over tea bags. When varnished it gives an antique effect.

The rest of this instructable has photos of finished sculptures with the smaller details pointed out. Have fun!

Step 9: Holly Berry

Chuck Berrys guitar, on the left, is a cardboard cut-out with fuse wire for strings.

Buddy Holly's microphone is a tubular earring, a plastic pearl pushed into the top and the rest are bits of wire. Paint the relevant bits black, and et voila, we have a 50s stage microphone.

By the way, these were commissioned pieces, I am not that old!

Step 10: Wizards

These are great for this project, all those capes and flowing robes. After you have painted the wizard, just before the paint is completely dry, buff the figure lightly with a soft cloth. This gives a worn appearance to the clothing and emphasises the folds, the hats on these two show off this technique quite well.

The gnarled walking stick on the right is a pipe cleaner with fuse wire wrapped around it. Painted brown it passes for a neat wooden branch.

Step 11: Varnish, Varnish and Varnish Again.

From the very beginning try to keep in mind the circumstances the figure finds itself in and exaggerate it. The joke with Van Gogh is that his sun flowers have died, poor old Vince, its just one thing after another.

And slap on plenty of gloss varnish, it cannot be too shiny! Remember, we are talking kitsch, kitsch, kitsch!!

If you have trouble getting the features of a famous person to look right, just call it an impersonator, like the Elvis sculpture, it works every time!

An Elvis impersonator and Van Gogh on the same bill, what a show! Vincents ear has now left the building..

Step 12: Ye Olde Stuff

The Victorians got up to some interesting things, some of them ideal for the Kitsch enthusiast. Besides shoving kids up chimneys and sorting the drains out their entertainment was full of fun and frolics too.

Circus performers are great to demonstrate movement and drama although I have tried to steer away from the circus freak show. In general I don't see why a bearded lady or a three legged gentleman would be too objectionable; it depends on how politically correct you are.

I did make an Elephant Man; he was holding a cute baby elephant, it was just the name that made people think it was something else, that was the joke.

The chap with the Penny Farthing was more secure holding onto it rather than riding it (much like the real thing!). The wheels are various thicknesses of wire so it was prudent not to have him riding it.

The strong man looks quite freaky but just on the right side of comical not to cause offence, unless by some amazing coincidence you look like him, then sorry!

Step 13: Market Traders

Market stalls are great for shoving everything, including the kitchen sink, onto the table or barrow. These two ladies are a case in point.

The greengrocer, bottom picture, has fruit and vegetables everywhere, I got all the veg from a farmyard animal set.

The lady with the jumble is an excuse to get rid of all the stuff you can't think of to use on anything else.

Step 14: Mad Butcher and Unicyclist

The butcher sculpture is the old cartoon joke about dogs running off with a string of sausages. There are others that would be good to try, like the big bump on the head with birds tweeting round it, an anvil or a grand piano dropping onto someone, person wearing a barrel held up with braces, the list is endless, just watch Tom and Jerry for inspiration.

The unicyclist is balancing a bottle on the end of his nose salvaged from Cindy/Barbie doll accessories; those things are a gold mine of goodies and small enough for the kids not to notice they have disappeared, until they see them stuck to your sculpture, whoops!

Step 15: Lady Gnomes

I made these to hold plant pots with artificial flowers in, they were presents and not everyone can be bothered looking after real plants. They are a bit 'girly' for my taste but they were appreciated. Something hand made is priceless compared to something bought.

Sometimes you may want to make more that one sculpture and give them away, or sell them. If assembly lines are your thing then go with it, for me the mass production of standardised goods becomes monotonous and the fun quickly evaporates, obviously I am not entrepreneur material!

Step 16: Eating and Drinking

Sedentary activities can look interesting if surrounded by things that make you look twice. Mention the Hare and the Tortoise and the last thing you would think of is both sitting down together with a cup of tea. This unusual situation makes the joke, add the ubiquitous dolls house crockery and we have an odd couple.

The problem is, how do you make a tortoise look benevolent and wise? Unfortunately this one is more like the 'Thing' from the Fantastic Four, you can't win em all.

Another Lady Gnome on the left, this one is feeding her face, she is tucking into a live suckling pig which has a surprised expression on its snout. Nursery rhymes and fables are a good source of inspiration, but keep it simple and try not to get bogged down with too complicated a design.

Remember, inspiration is bilt on ideas!

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    43 Discussions


    ok.... so it's me again-I just am blown over by your creations!  Re-looking at your Instructable has brightened my day! Where are your pieces shown?  are they for personal enjoyment, or are they for sale/ 

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks so much for you encouragement, they are all up in my attic at the moment, maybe I should start getting rid of them, I would give them all away to a good home.
    Cheers, have a safe Christmas and an indestructible instructable new year my friend


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I would give them a safe and loving home! We could arrange a meeting with a social worker to see if she agreed. We live in a smoke- free pet -free house ;0( the dog went to doggie heaven)
    I could pay for the postage too! They are too wonderful to live in an attic. All the best, Lyn

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your kind words, all the sculptures are made just for fun and are at my home on the shelves. If anyone was intersted I could be tempted to sell them.

    Beautiful pieces, and wonderful instructable! Your sense of humour gives the little characters life. I'm quite smitten with Vincent!

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you, I try to give them character, who knows, maybe film animation next !

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Come on folks, lets see those santas, made our special way!!! Happy Christmasto all fellow modellers!!!


    11 years ago on Step 16

    It is obvious that you put an incredible amount of detail, humor, creativity, whimsy into your art. It was a pleasure viewing your contribution. Thank you for sharing your "secrets".


    11 years ago on Introduction

    this is really cool!!! I wish that I had the supplies to do so:(


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    really?because I love art and have many ideas on a sculpture...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    thanks! I love sketching and making and creating sculptures,but I just need some clay(I do all of my work at school)

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Schools the best place to learn, keep it up and as you progress your skills will automatically improve.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    thank you for the wise advice! (does a small bow)

    Chris Bilton
    Chris Bilton

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    No problem, pleased to be of help, take care out there and always listen to your mom. Good bye now, (gives a wave of the hand and walks into the sunset)


    12 years ago on Step 16

    they are amazing.Im trying tomake dolls them.How can you make their dolls? Have a good day