I’m going to make a snake. Not any old snake. But my rendition of the Hindu/Buddhist deity associated with the divine aspect of the cobra. It is often associated with dragons. So I’m calling mine, Naga-Dragon Queen of Snakes. Okay… a dragon-like snake is one step away from a dragon, right? Except there are no wings, or toes. Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy.
I started with wire clothes hangers, as always. You know, these used to be omnipresent. Now, it appears that the only places using them are dry cleaners. They still use the small gauge, white ones. Those work well. For this project I wanted to use the old, heavy gauge hangers. You can still get these online. That’s because there were so many made over the years. I wanted to insure a supply so I went on a buying spree a while back. I ended up with 1600 of them. My wife, and my mail person thought I was crazy. Anyway…. I straightened out about 10 of these hangers. I doubled them up and made a length the size of the snake I wanted, about 8 feet long.
I twisted newspaper around the length of the wire. Now you’d think this would be an easy task. But it’s actually quite a challenge to get the perfect taper over an 8 foot length. Of course I wanted it bigger on the front end with a nice point on the back end. This took adding many layers of paper and wrapping with masking tape. On the left you can see how it looked in the initial stages. After a lot of twisting and a lot of masking tape I was able to get a more or less smooth surface.
Of course that perfect taper and that smoothness all went away as I coiled the big snake. It’s amazing how 8 feel shrinks when you get it into a spiral. You’d never think this was 8 feet long once it was all curled up. So here’s a lesson for you. If you stumble upon what looks to be a smallish dragon-snake in the woods, know that she is actually much larger than she looks!
So now there came a second round of smoothing and filling in voids. This time I used wads of phone book paper and masking tape to make the surface smooth once again. This took the better part of a day.
I decided to paper mache the body before worrying about the hood or the head.
Paper Mache “Naga Dragon Queen of Snakes”: Paper Mache
Just a quick post from where I left off. This is where I add the paper mache to the snake. I’m not going to explain the entire process here. But just because it’s been a while I’m going to remind you about the most important rule about doing paper mache. Never put the paper in the paste! Only your hands.
Why? Because when you put strips of paper in the paste it disintegrates. It gets gooey. And it’s really impossible to evenly distribute the paste no matter how hard you try with your fingers. So you get globs of paste that don’t dry and air pockets between the layers of paper. Just get your hands really wet with paste. Then touch the stack of paper strips and one will stick to your fingers. Use only one sheet at a time. If two stick to your hand shake one loose. Put the strip on the project and use your wet hands to soak it. Use your hands to push out the air bubbles and smooth the project. I started at the neck. I wrapped the paper strips around the snake at an angle putting on a few layers.
With the strips at an angle everything naturally works its way downward. I worked my way along the length of the snake squeezing out the excess paste as I went.
I added more layers where I thought it needed it for bulk and symmetry. Not that this step doesn’t have to be done perfectly. The details are added later with the cloth and glue.
This took a few days to dry completely. As an aside, I can’t tell you how many people have asked me how to get their projects to dry faster. They are under some crazy deadline (“I’m helping my kid make a paper mache dog for school! It’s due in two days! What can I do?”) Some go to elaborate lengths to accelerate the drying, including using a microwave oven. Don’t use an oven to dry your projects! (except for you Rick) My advice? Plan ahead next time. And don’t do your kid’s homework.
Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes”: Scales
Just a quick post. I’ve been working on this snake for a while now. It has turned out to be much more labor intensive than I’d planned (okay, so this happens with every project I make). But I’m enjoying myself. I added some spikes to the tail.
I made a nice mouth with some pretty fangs. This will be cobra-like so the long teeth seemed appropriate. I cloth mached the mouth and painted it.
I added breast plates along the under belly. I’ll show you a better photo of those later. What I’m going to show you now is two full weeks of work. It’s amazing how long it takes to put scales on a nine foot long snake. These are similar to the dragon scales I make but I made these more hexagonal rather than triangular. These overlap like dragon scales would. Trust me, this was a real challenge considering the coil.
Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes”: Final SculptingI have to say that I’m really pleased with how this is turning out. Of course I could ruin it with paint. (But I won’t.) I’ve always said that paint can’t fix a bad piece of sculpture. But a bad paint job can ruin a good piece of sculpture. Still, if I like it in the “white stage”, I know it can be something I will really like with a good paint job. I’ve got the colors I want. Nevertheless, I’ll probably fuss around for two days equivocating before I put a paint brush to the piece. These aren’t the best photos. And there is a lot of glue stuck to the horns, teeth and eyes. I really like the way the hood turned out, with the bones (or horns) running through it.
Here she is from the back.
I wanted to give you a close up of the scales on the head. Actually they are more like plates. You see this on most snakes. Of course I can’t do justice to what nature does for real snakes. My plates are far from perfect. I got as much symmetry as I could. This was painstaking, even more than the scales covering the body. It doesn’t look like it would be that challenging, but it was.
Here’s a view from under the chin. You’ll notice someone in the background. He’s not very happy. He wanted food. I told him he would have to wait a few minutes. I had glue on my hands. He’s not real patient. Like his dad (me). The most maddening thing was that after I shot this photo I cleaned the glue off of my hands and gave him some food. He just sniffed it and walked away. I’m sure he was pouting. I’m sure he waited till I was back at work before sneaking back to eat it. Little pill Eddie.
It’s a shame that most people won’t even see the underside of this snake. I just thought I’d show you the “breast plates” along the entire length of the snake.
For no particular reason I thought I’d show you a couple of my tools. The glue from my hands gets everywhere. This is typical of everything in my studio, my phone, my TV remote control, the handles on the sink, everything.
While I’m on this side track I want to come back to the labor intensive aspect of these pieces. I can’t tell you how many people decide that anything called “paper mache” should not cost more than a hundred bucks. They are shocked when I give them a quote for a commission. After working an entire day to put scales on a foot or so of this snake, it becomes clear that I’ve probably put more time into the piece than I can recoup when I finally decide to sell it (if I want minimum wage). It just happens. The real bottom line is, I make this art for myself. I don’t do it with money in mind even when I take commissions. I won’t accept a commission unless it’s a piece that I’d happily keep if the deal fell through. It’s really about doing the work. Doing the work feeds me the right way. All you artists out there know what I mean.
Paper Mache “Naga- Dragon Queen of Snakes”: Finished!!
Well, this took a long time to finish. I like the paint job. Unfortunately I didn’t get photos of the painting in process. I’m sorry. But I did make one of my time-lapse videos of this project being made. I think the painting process is very clear in that video. Follow the link at the bottom of this post to see it.