Welcome to the third installment of the Conan the Conqueror Blog. The main points of discussion in meeting with Frank (Frazetta) were to see how I sculpted the overall mass of the figure and the masses (size and musculature) of the horse and if they met with Frank’s vision in the painting.
I added the arms and roughed in the muscular mass fairly quickly, although there was some additive and reductive fine tuning. Specifically, I added material to build up the masses, then carved them with wood and horn tools to shape them into the general shapes I wanted and that I felt matched the size and mass of those in the painting. After meeting with Frank, I would finish out the muscular detail. I had roughed in some muscular mass on the horse (as mentioned earlier) and felt he was ready to go. Here’s how it looked at this stage:
We had a good visit and Frank thought the masses worked well overall. He adjusted the head placement, moving it back a bit. He felt the masses of the legs, torso and arms worked well, but wanted the mass of the legs to seem heavier and more affected by gravity, so we agreed I’d flatten them slightly and add a bit of material to the inside of the thighs.
Frank agreed that using the Kubla Khan pen and ink works was a good reference point for this horse. Since only a small part of one back leg is shown, we talked about the legs a bit to find the best leg position for the sculpture. We also considered raising the horse’s tail because it had a nice dramatic look, even though it doesn’t show in the painting. Frank felt that it was important to consider simple changes to the painting if they worked better for the sculpture as seen from other angles. At this stage, we left the horse tail to a future discussion.
Thus far, the figure had a good start. Next, I talked to Frank about the face of the figure as that would obviously be a key element. The face on Conan the Conqueror is somewhat more loosely painted than the face on the Conan the Adventurer painting I had sculpted some years earlier. There is clearly some scarring on the face of this figure and we decided that adding the scarring to match the earlier painting was fine. There is also some scarring that appears in the painting to the other (right) side of his face and we agreed I’d sculpt that in, as Conan by this time had clearly added some battle scars.
Now it was time to get back to the studio. I sculpt the head of a figure separately, usually. I may sculpt the head first, or midway in the process or at the end, after the figure is fully sculpted. It really depends on what works best in the approval process and the overall sculpting. In this case, it was time to sculpt the head and add it to the figure to get as much accomplished in the next meeting with Frank as possible. I used the painting, of course, but to get the contours more correct I reversed the painting in Photoshop and printed it out. I rough out the head and then incise the lines where the brow line and eyes will be, then the bottom of the nose and finally the mouth. I build up the mouth area and sink in deep hollows where the eyes will be. I then cut the face back and away from the eyes and cheeks and then build the cheeks back a bit, if necessary. The nose is added and then all areas are shaped.
After the head was finished, I added it to the body and began to fine tune the arms and torso, putting in more fine detail muscles and shaping them to suit the figure as Frank painted it. I shaped the serratus muscles, the rib cage and the abdominals with cross smoothing to give them a finished skin effect with thick wire loops and a couple of rounded wood tools I keep highly polished for that specific use.
You can also see more tuning of the back muscles and forearm muscles. I find the back to be the most difficult part of the male figure to sculpt. My observation is that other sculptors also have problems with it. I’ve also laid in more extensively the flexors and extensors of the forearms, a very complicated and interesting set of muscles and difficult to sculpt. I basically lay in long strips of material and work them together with some surface and depth variation between them for a strong, but natural look.
After the muscular detail was more or less where I wanted it, I cut in the leather strap across his chest to check the look and see if the feel of the painting was coming across properly.
Like any sculptor, I also change and adjust areas throughout the process. A part may look correct one day, but may seem to need adjustment the next. The key is to be sure that the second day’s eye is more correct than the previous day’s eye. As you can see in the photo, I wasn’t satisfied with the shape of the lower leg and calf muscle, so I removed the strapping and made the necessary adjustments. I also fine-tuned the thighs to get the right amount of definition to convey the rugged power of the figure in the painting.
I usually sculpt the hands separately, so you can see how I cut off one of the hands with the intention to reattach it later, after fully sculpting it.
As you can see in the photo, we were still experimenting with the look of the horse’s tail in the sculpture. At this point, it is flipping upwards, although in the painting it doesn’t show. The important consideration to Frank was that the look chosen was the one that worked best for the sculpture.
Next, we’ll attack the finishing of the anatomy, the addition of helmet and other details. Stay tuned!