unfired terracotta sculpture 35 cm tall, by Chris Wayan, 2006
I meet a lot of winged cat-people in my dreams.
This woman, though, isn't a sketch of a specific dream-meeting. She illustrates a sort of waking dream--a world I imagined where lightly built feline fliers like my dream-friends might plausibly evolve: lebbirds. Her world, Tharn, isn't a planet, but a mere moon only a fourth the mass of Earth, orbiting a super-Jupiter--let's call it Zeus. Tidal stress has creased little Tharn with deep trenches; frequent impacts have punched deep craters. Such low-low-lowlands have dense air but weak gravity--ideal for large fliers!
So this sculpture's a portrait of a lebbird native to Mrr Trench, done with local culture in mind: their not-quite-worship of the not-quite-moon! It's hot down in these dense-aired trenches; but the nights are mild, and very bright--Zeus is a huge lamp in the sky (20 times wider than our moon, and over 1000 times brighter!). Earth primitives were all terracentric; but on Tharn, various tribes had three models: terracentrism, heliocentrism, or Zeusocentrism (it looks much bigger than the sun, after all!) Yes, modern lebbirds know they orbit their sun and don't worship Zeus as a goddess anymore, they can't help feeling awe and a very sensual delight at this gorgeous paisley lantern in their night sky, so bright you can see full color, so big it radiates palpable warmth. On Tharn you can close your eyes and feel the embrace of the Goddess--subtler than sunlight, and you certainly can't get a moon-tan, but this woman's enjoying being "tongue-washed by the Goddess" as her people say.
Sensual and spiritual both; and I hope it shows.
In my scenario of Tharn there are numerous intelligent species forming a worldwide civilization, not just one. The result is a mixture of what a cynical, warlike, go-it-alone species like humans might see as big-city sophistication and innocence. For example, neither society has any memory of war. It's not the result of saintliness, just one consequence of a multispecific culture. Perhaps warlike species lived in prehistoric times, but species that cooperated advanced faster; either victims eventually allied to drive the warriors into marginal lands, or pacifist minorities from species practicing war joined the worldwide civilization and outbred the warriors. Either way, warlike societies eventually went extinct--if any even existed. Fliers' bones are fragile; the fossil record is thin.
The sculpture itself? It's plain terracotta clay, unfired (so far; I hope to change that, for it's quite fragile as is; but I don't have easy access to a kiln right now). The figure's 35 cm tall (almost 14").
There's no armature (a skeleton of sticks or straws that'll burn off in a kiln)--it's pure clay. Probably the figure would be lighter and airier if I'd made an armature--unsupported, this is as thin as I could safely get. Too thin, really--the legs, tail and wings have broken repeatedly and had to be redone.
The trouble was, I knew I'd change the proportions substantially as I worked, and didn't want to cut through an armature to do it. Pure clay left me free to add and cut anywhere... and I did. Still, next time I'll try an armature--rolled-up paper, though, not sticks. Easier to cut through if you must.
Much of the detail wasn't molded but carved away when the clay was leathery-dry--some when it was bone-dry.
Sorry the background is so busy; I couldn't find a plain dark cloth big enough. It'd have become busy anyway, pretty fast; the soft raw clay left dust and crumbling bits all over.
So fragile! When I photographed her, I lost a kilo in nervous sweat alone, waiting for her to break... Nope.
She stands today in a glass case, still unfired--I haven't yet found a kiln. Though in the long run my real ambition is to cast her in bronze.
TEN YEARS LATER...
I never could get access to a kiln to fire the Lebbird. She and two kindred unfired figures worried me the whole time. So fragile! At last, this year, I decided I had to do something to protect them. I painted many layers of matte acrylic varnish. These sank into the clay and mixed with it, drying a tough but slightly flexible skin. Then I polychromed her in acrylic--again in many layers for added strength. Even that wasn't enough--a leg cracked and her tail broke off entirely. It took several tries to re-anchor it firmly--a trench full of wet slip plus a massive wood-screw, all sealed with acrylic once it dried. The metal and acrylic do mean she can never be fired, now. No turning back. But she's posable and portable now--barely.
Lebbird Ecstatic is my prime candidate for 3D scanning. I plan to tweak her digital master file by stretching her lower half 5-10%, reversing the compression that accordioned and shortened her legs slightly as she dried. Then, printed in plastic or bronze, she should be close to my original conception a decade ago.
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