Life Casting: An Eye Opening Technique
You can immediately distinguish the talented lifecasting artist from the novice by a glance at the eyes. That is the eyes of the face or portrait casting. As even a beginning life casting artist can pull of a passable face casting with little to no experience. The face with its closed eyes is about as inspirational as a death mask. Such as the face castings made by European undertakers for their deceased clients in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were important memorials at the time, since photography had not yet taken hold. A plaster mold was made of the departed ‘s face and then a plaster or wax cast was made from the mold. Today the technique is more advanced in the use of skin safe products such as alginate and silicone, but sadly the results are most often the same. A duplicate of the face or head in an eyes-closed reposed position – leading the viewer wondering if the subject is asleep, bored or no longer with us.
Yes, sculpting and modeling is an altogether different talent than mold making and casting. Where one is a more artistic endeavor, requiring years of training or at least artistic genes and the other requiring a view of a YouTube video to attempt the art of face casting.
For those life casting artists wishing to improve their skills, I recommend an excellent book by authors Philippe & Charisse Faraut, Portrait Sculpting: Anatomy & Expressions in Clay. There is a wonderful section on shaping and modeling eyes that will provide an excellent understanding of positioning and sculpting eyes.
EYE TYPE STENCILS
ALMOND UPTURNED HOODED ROUND
In life casting there are two basic techniques for adding eyes. Both require the drawing of the shapes of the eyes over the cast closed eye. The first method, actually cuts open the eye shape and then a prosthetic eye, either plastic or glass, is fitted in from behind up through the neck and cemented in place. See images above.
With this method, care must be taken to be absolutely certain both eyes are positioned with the same direction of gaze. If not, the eyes will not look right.
In cutting open the eyes, the lids with be destroyed. As the lids are closed and you will be cutting into them. With a plaster cast this is easily fixed. Since new plaster does not stick to dried plaster, by using a bit of wall compound or Spackle, lids can be sculpted over the eyes.
The second and more advanced method and the one I feel looks far more traditional for a head portrait, is to sculpt the eyes directly into the plaster casting. This can be very intimidating for those who have never done this type of work. But if you use the stencils contained in this article (shown above) you should get very satisfactory results.
Copy the appropriate stencils and past themover the eyes. Using a ball point pen, trace over the lines to transfer the impressions onto the plaster surface. Remove the stencils and carve away the eye area. Remember the eye is a sphere. So that each corner is lower than the iris.
First determine the type of eyes your subject has. Typically, there are five general eyes types, hooded, round, upturned, almond and the mono-lid. Make a copy of the appropriate stencils in your computor drawing program and resize them so they fit to your face or portrait cast. You will probably need to rotate the images before they fit correctly. But your drawing program can easily do it for you.
Then temporarily tack both eyes in place with a quick setting glue. Trace over the lines of the stencil with a ball point pen. Do this with enough pressure that you are transferring impressions of the lines onto the plaster surface. When you are finished tracing, remove the paper stencils and with a soft pencil trace over the lines so that they can be more easily seen.
Now the task at hand is to sculpt out the eyes. Remember, that the eye ball is an actual sphere. So, the iris is higher than each corner of the eye. Carefully scrap away the areas between the lids so that you are creating a spherical shape.
Now to be a little technical. The lacrimal caruncle, or caruncula lacrimalis, is the small, pink, globular nodule at the inner corner of the eye. Be careful to show that. You don’t want to cut the inner corners too deep or you will cut it away.
By following the lines of the stencils, and carefully cutting away the plaster you should be able to achieve a face or portrait with the life-like look of opened eyes. With a bit of practice an anatomical study you achieve a skill level that will build your reputation as a master life casting artist.