It seemed fitting that the first project I post about would be the BVS mascot, Venny. It was late 2015 when I decided I wanted to create a blog to display and talk about my projects. I also wanted to be able to direct people to it easily and so I started sketching a business card while I was at work. I was thinking about a name and image that would convey creativity but also be visually interesting. The idea of a brain being “milked” came to me and just like that, Venny was born.
I’m good enough at 2D art that I can eventually come out with what I want, but I know I need a mascot that I can get multiple angles of. It started to make sense to make a 3D model and just shoot photos for the business card and stock images on the blog.
The 3D medium I’m most familiar with is polymer clay, like Sculpey. My dad put food on the table through most of my childhood by using this stuff to sculpt tchotchkes and commissioned portraits for tourists coming through the small mountain village where we lived.
A few sketches helped get the form in my head and I made a base form. A second layer will go on top of to give it the noodley texture, so I had to account for the thickness that would add to make it right in the end. The color is irrelevant for now because I know that all the parts at this stage will either be covered or painted. I baked the clay at this point so I would have a hard form to add onto, rather than one that would squash and become misshapen as I worked.
I had to add the external layer to the mouth before the rest of the outside, because the clay making up the noodles would otherwise get squashed while I worked. For the mouth I used a color close enough to gums that anything showing through the final paint layer won’t look out of place.
I referenced a lot of photos of brains and snakes to get something that looked creepy and anatomically accurate.
Once I felt like the shapes were all correct and symmetrical, I added tiny holes that will later hold the teeth and baked it again.
I rolled out thin noodles of clay and started smooshing them onto the blue form. There were two challenges to getting the noodles on: the proportions had to be exact or it wouldn’t look like a brain, and when adding unbaked clay onto baked clay, you have to make a lot of contact with the pre-baked form, otherwise the noodles wont stick and will pop off after being baked. I periodically squished down portions and blended it onto the form with an Xacto knife, trying to make it fold together naturally.
Polymer clay holds details really well. On this scale, tool marks and even fingerprints will be noticeable, so I smoothed them out with a wet paintbrush.
With the head almost done, it still looked pretty flat. Polymer clay comes in almost any color, and can be mixed just like paint by kneading it together. Because it’s opaque though, gradients, and 2D textures/details are easier to get by layering paint over the baked clay. Most paints stick well to the baked polymer, so I used acrylic with enamel clear coat.
You can see here the difference that a little paint can make in adding depth.
Even the mouth got a lot of attention to create the illusion of veins running under the gums.
It takes a lot of passes to get the texture I want but in the end it’s a huge improvement.
I rolled out a ton of tiny cones of white clay to make teeth and baked them. The process of gluing them into place was tedious and the teeth will be incredibly delicate from this point on, but the effect was well worth it. I used superglue, which bonds really well with the polymer.
Finally, it’s time for a glaze. I use about 3 coats of high gloss to really sell the slimy factor.
I left the main fangs off. Not only would they be so delicate and exposed that it would be a total pain, but most of my photos will feature Venny being milked, meaning his fangs are hidden in the beaker drum. In some photos I actually ended up adding the fangs digitally.
I eventually decided Venny needed a body. I imagined what a brain would look like if it were to crawl out of someone’s scull, and sketch up some outlines based on human nervous system structure. But I also wanted it to look vaguely amphibian, so I made a pair of gills to go with it. The body would eventually be translucent and slimy looking, cast out of silicone and latex, but for now I just sculpted out the figure using modeling clay. I made internal pieces that will be made from a darker, more opaque silicone and set into a more translucent exterior. I’m going for a kind of jellyfish look with an almost muscle-like structure inside.
I could have just make the front and back pieces once, since they are laterally symmetrical, but I wanted the front to have a different “skeletal” structure, so I made them separate. In the end, the materials I used didn’t give enough detail for this to be noticeable. I hadn’t used professional 2-part molding silicone at this point, so instead I was brushing on layers of silicone almost exactly like the stuff used in make up. I got impatient and piled on caulking silicone, which works okay for a adding bulk but smells awful and takes days to dry.
I filled up the nice fresh molds with some opaque latex caulk. I wanted to be able to pose the figure when done, so I laid some fine wire into the tentacles. The latex caulking material also takes acrylic paints very nicely, so I painted it the color I wanted the interior structure to be.
To get the translucent silicone the right color I typically use food dye and mix it in really well. This is surprisingly effective and easy to do if you put the silicone straight into a plastic sandwich bag, mix in the coloring by smashing it around in the bag, then cut a small corner off to squeeze out your now-colored silicone. Again, the stuff I used was more for weather sealing and waterproofing, so it’s very sticky and hard to avoid bubbles. I’m sure there are better materials out there, but introducing water (or water based food dye) actually reduces the cure time for this material, so it works alright. For the back of the gills I used the molding latex with a bit of dye because it’s softer and runnier. I poked holes into a modeling clay form and let the latex run into it to make little bumpy gill tendrils. Rubber cement holds the tendrils to the rest of the gill structure.
There was the question of how the gills would be attached. I wanted to be able to take the body off for some shots, so I cast the gill structure around a piece of polymer that has been molded into the bottom of the cerebellum. The other end had a screw protruding that would go into the rest of the body. The side that fit into the cerebellum got a tiny neodymium magnet, as did the cerebellum itself. Together they hold the body on nicely, but still leave it detachable.
The crustier inside structure is laid into lightly-died, purple silicone in the exterior mold.
To keep the silicone from sticking to the latex mold I used a release agent. It ended up making the silicone too foggy to see the texture I put on the internal structure, but it all still looked very organic, so I’m happy.
Getting the shot of Venny I needed took a lot more lighting and time than I had expected (thanks to my friend Tina for the help on the shoot).
After spending a lot of time deciding on the exact shot I wanted to use and editing it with all the graphics and information I wanted on my card, I had a lot of them printed one-sided. This was a lot more cost-effective, but I like the idea of having a QR code link to the site on the back. I ended up using a site called rubberstamps.net to order a stamp of the QR pattern that can be printed onto almost anything 2D. The site is the easiest way I’ve yet found to get high-res stamps. We used it in college to make stamps for our Billiards Club.
It takes a little extra time to stamp QR links on the back of the cards, but ultimately it’s a lot more cost effective, and works fine.
The whole thing came together great and looks pretty disturbing. I got exactly the business card I wanted and learned a lot making it.