I haven’t posted in a while because I have been busy with a commission. However, I’m going to talk about that commission and how it was made. That will allow us to discuss both building complex forms from simple components and heat patina on bronze.
My commission was to make a figure of the Norse god Odin that looks like it has spent centuries in the earth. (The title ‘Wanderer’ is one of Odin’s names.) Let’s start with a look at the finished product. Note that this is a depiction of what a real Viking helm would have looked like. The horned helms are a 19th Century notion, and have no historic precedent.
Bronze seems the obvious metal to use in a Viking age piece. I used Fastfire Bronzclay., my favorite form of bronze clay. There are no commercial molds that would do. I did not want to sculpt the figure. Therefore, I built the figure up from simple components.
I started out with a mold for a male face. The mold was probably intended for polymer clay, but a mold for one can be used for the other.
Next I made an eye patch and a band that would hold it in place, if it were a real eye-patch (the Norse god sacrificed one of his eyes for wisdom). Then I made the base of the helm. I started out with the helm having runic letters on it. As you can see from the finished project, I changed my mind about that later.
Next I put on a band around the base of the helm. Then I made a beard and mustache. There were done by texturing clay with a hair pattern, and then cutting out the pieces with a clay cutter. I did not use any form of template for the beard and mustache, but simply eyeballed it.
I then added a tuft of hair hanging out from under the helm, to cover where the ear would be on a real person.
I put on the reinforcing bands of the helm and the nasal (the piece of metal that sticks down to protect the nose in a real helm).
Here it is after some clean-up, but before attaching the bale.
Here it is after firing, with a bale attached. I used the same texture on the bale that I used on the nasal and reinforcing bands on the helm.
I had planned a conventional tumbling and then patinaing with Black Max (c). However, the heat patina turned out quite nicely. There are patches of red, green, and purple (the photo does not do it justice — the actual colors are lovely). Therefore, I decided to leave it with a heat patina, with only a light polishing of the left eye, so that the details would not be obscured by the patina.
Heat patina can be a wonderful addition to bronze or copper. You heat the metal, and it develops nice colors. The problem is that it is difficult to impossible to control what the colors will be. You simply take what you get.
There are at least two ways to do heat patina. One is to heat the piece with a torch after you are done. Care must be exercised to not get the piece so hot that it melts. The other approach is to use the heat of the kiln. However, if you fire in charcoal (which you must for bronze), the patina gets re-absorbed into the charcoal as the piece cools. Therefore, to preserve heat patina, you must remove the piece from the charcoal while it is still warm. This takes care — you want it to be warm enough to work, but, if you use your hands to remove the metal from the charcoal, not so hot so that you get burned. With some practice, you can learn to do this.
Finally, I will note that, if you don’t like the heat patina, you can simply refire the piece. The patina will vanish somewhere around 1000 degrees F.
Use this as you inspiration for making your own pieces by combining simple forms! It takes time and effort, but it is worth it!