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The Boris troll was designed and built for the city of Midland, Michigan’s 2011 Downtown Sculpture Series, an annual event where various artists create sculptures based on that year’s theme.
The theme for 2011 is trolls to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Midland’s tridge, a three way foot bridge that is an icon for the city.
Artists could choose to paint a pre-formed sculpture or create their own free-form troll. The sculptures had specific size requirements and could not be “dark, scary or unfriendly.”
This is the documentation of my progress from early February until mid May, a process that took over 100 hours of work and a lot of patience, this is the story of Boris the Bolter.
Last January the Downtown Development Authority put out a “call to artists” to submit designs for troll sculptures that would be displayed in downtown Midland during June, July and August.
The sculpture series was celebrating its tenth anniversary and after a few minutes I came up with a concept that I felt would be a fun and challenging project.
My first step was to do a couple of quick sketches then I created a small scale clay sculpture of my concept.
The concept was sculpted in clay because a scale model really helped me see the design in three dimensions and later on would prove beneficial in terms of getting the full scale proportions correct.
Boris also had a small back story and description that I submitted along with some photos of the clay sculpture.
‘Boris the Bolter has lived under the Tridge for three decades routinely traversing the underside of the structure tightening each bolt every night. Skeptics might argue that Boris is actually doing a disservice by loosening bolts but history will show that he is actually a good troll contributing to Tridge maintenance.
Boris will be holding a large wrench in his right hand and several large bolts in his left. This troll features three toes on each foot and three fingers on each hand as a special nod to the Tridge. Large cartoonish eyes, ears and nose will complete the look and make for a friendly addition to the downtown celebration.
Boris will stand approximately four feet high and three feet wide and will be constructed onto a plywood base. The armature will be made made from 1”x3” lumber, pvc pipe and wire. The armature will be covered with several different papier mache techniques including traditional strip mache, homemade papier clay and a special surface coating of my design.
The cloak will be made of burlap coated in a special mixture of joint compound and latex which will dry to a rock like hardness.
The final piece will be unbelievably strong and durable, in fact if the sculpture had to be disassembled it would be necessary to use a power saw. The strength of the final piece plus the addition of a clear coat will make a sculpture well suited for exterior display.”
Based on the above description I started work on my troll, the approach was very well thought out considering that I would need to build the troll in sections then assemble it outside once the weather was warm enough.
Work started on the head first, using the small clay sculpture I calculated the dimensions for the full scale version and made templates for each individual element of the head: ears, eyes, nose, teeth, hair, skull and mouth.
Using recycled cardboard, hot glue and tape I created each element and covered with strip papier mache.
Once the pieces were done I assembled the entire head.
The process was trial and error and constant referencing of the small clay sculpture.
Here is a short time lapse video showing the head construction.
The troll’s body was nothing more than a large sphere measuring 29 inches wide.
The body was made from very heavy corrugated cardboard and mesh drywall packing tape.
Four large 29 inch circles were cut from the cardboard then assembled into a sphere, the surface was wrapped with many layers of the mesh tape then covered with about 15 layers of strip mache.
Here is a short time lapse video showing the body construction.
Next I tackled the hands because I knew these would be a challenge and time consuming.
Each finger was made from rolled up newspaper, covered in papier mache, allowed to dry then formed into the proper shape.
More strip mache covered each finger, then the fingernails were shaped.
Once each finger was created I used them to create each hand, again much trial and error and persistence.
Homemade papier mache clay was used to sculpt the knuckles and add a ragged texture to the fingernails.
The Wrench and Bolts:
The wrench and bolts were relatively easy because they were made by cutting basic shapes from cardboard.
Once again the proper size was determined by measuring the small clay sculpture.
The wrench and bolts were built at the same time as the hands so they were used to help determine the proper pose for the hands.
Once the basic forms were made from cardboard and strip mache they were detailed with my homemade papier clay.
Appropriate textures and lettering were formed in the wet clay.
The lettering was achieved by cutting the appropriate sized letters from craft foam sheets and pressing them into the wet clay, after the clay had dried for a bit the letters were removed leaving a nice clean imprint.
The wrench and bolts were then attached to each hand using hot glue and more clay, they essentially became one solid piece that would later be attached to the body.
Here is short time lapse video showing the construction of the wrench and bolts.
The entire troll was designed to be attached to a 3×3 foot plywood base.
The base was painted and sealed to protect against water damage then each footprint was also cut from ¾ inch plywood.
Strips of corrugated cardboard were stapled to the edge of each foot then covered with five or six layers of strip mache for strength.
Once dry the bottom sections of the feet were painted and sealed and then bolted to the plywood base.
The feet needed to be quite solid because they would have to support the weight of the entire troll.
The basic shape of the feet was built with recycled cardboard and the empty space inside the feet were filled with recycled water bottles and milk jugs, 28 total.
Additional strength was achieved by filling the remainder of the space with expanding spray foam insulation (Great Stuff).
The feet were further detailed with the addition of the metatarsal phalangeal joints (toe knuckles) and toe nails.
Also note that two short pieces of lumber were also bolted to the feet, the boards will act as supports once the body is attached to the feet.
The end of April the weather finally warmed up enough so that progress could continue on the troll, the final assembly would have to take place in our garage.
The first step was to attach the body to the feet.
Two holes were cut into the bottom of the body sphere, the body was then placed on the feet, the body was slid over the two boards attached to the feet.
Additional boards were used to secure the body and papier clay was used as “cement” in the space between the feet and the body.
Small holes were punched into the clay to help with drying.
Once the body was in place cardboard strips were used to create a natural connection from the feet to the body, the strips created his stubby little legs.
Ten or twelve layers of strip mache were then applied to the legs.
To help with durability the inside sections of the body were filled with recycled bottles and expanding spray foam insulation.
The body and feet were allowed to dry for several days before the head and hands were attached.
The hands were attached in the proper position with a combination of screws, wire and hot glue.
The addition of papier clay will permanently cement them into place as they essentially become part of the entire sculpture.
The top of the body was cut and trimmed to allow the head to fit properly.
Cardboard strips smoothed the seams and strip papier mache was used to secure the head placement.
Once the mache had dried a small hole was drilled into each cheek and more expanding spray foam was injected into the cheeks and the space between the head and body.
The whole project used ten cans of Great Stuff expanding spray foam.
Arms were created using strips of recycled cardboard glued in place, once again the arms were covered with about ten layers of strip mache.
Boris sports a tattered burlap cape.
The cape was made by distressing pieces of burlap with a wire brush then coating with drywall joint compound and latex paint (Monster Mud) and applying them to his back.
A cowl was sculpted with papier clay at the top of the cape.
Once the cape was in place the hair tendrils were finished coming off the back of his head and flowing over the cape.
The hair was made using rolled up newspaper and wire and finally covered with papier clay and textured with the tongs of a plastic fork.
The troll shape is now completely assembled and the final step involved adding skin texture to the entire surface.
The inspiration for the skin design was lizard or elephant skin.
The pattern was achieved by pressing a loose weave piece of burlap into the wet clay.
Three different sized textures were used to achieve the effect.
During the entire process adding the texture was the thing that surprised me the most, it took almost two eight hour days to apply the clay and texture but the end result was what I was imagining.
The final step was paint.
First the entire piece was spray coated with flat black latex paint.
Yellow acrylic as used for the eyes and teeth.
A bright green latex was dry brushed over all the exposed skin.
A dark orange was used on the finger and toe nails as well as the hair.
The cape dry was brushed a dark brown.
Shading was achieved by mixing lighter coats of each of the colors and dry brushing over protruding areas plus the blending of some yellow acrylic.
Finally a water based stain was applied over the entire surface helping blend the shading and making the paint scheme warmer and more organic.
The wrench and bolts were dry brushed with white primer then brown and burgundy acrylic paint was sponged onto the surface to simulate rust.
Amber shellac was applied to the wrench and bolt intensifying the rust effect.
List of paints used:
Olympic Premium Flat Black Latex
Color Place White Latex Ceiling Paint
Sherwin Williams Coconut Husk Brown Exterior Latex
Glidden Interior Eggshell New Grass Green
DecoArt Yellow Acrylic Paint
DecoArt Burgundy Acrylic Paint
DecoArt Burnt Umber Acrylic Paint
Zinnser Bulls eye Amber Shellac
Cabot Water-Borne Polystain Golden Oak Satin Finish
Valspar Exterior Flat Custom Mix Deep Orange