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 commissions for tourists coming through the small mountain village where we lived.
I know the relative size I want, so after several sketches [image not found…sorry] I block out the main form. I’ll add a second layer on top of to give it the noodley texture later on. This means I have to account for the thickness of the noodle texture layer to end up with the proportions I want in the end, so features like the jawline and eye are exaggerated on the basic form. The color is also irrelevant because I know that all the parts at this stage will either be covered or painted. I cure the clay by baking it so I will have a hard form to add onto, rather than one that will squash and become misshapen as I work.
I have to add the external layer to the mouth before the rest of the outside, because the clay making up the noodles will be malleable enough that just holding it to work on the mouth will squash the noodles. For the mouth I use a color close enough to gums that anything showing through the final paint layer won’t look out of place.
I reference a lot of photos to get something anatomical right. Obviously I’m using a lot of brain photos for the noodles and snake pics for the mouth.
Once I feel like the shapes are all correct and symmetrical, I add tiny holes that will later hold the teeth. Then I smooth out unwanted tool marks with a wet paintbrush and bake it again. Now I can begin the noodles.
I make the noodles exactly how you might expect: roll out some long thin noodles of clay and start smooshing them onto the blue form. There are two important parts to this though. First, the exact layout and proportions have to be exact or it won’t look like a brain. Second, you have to make a lot of contact with the pre-baked form, otherwise the noodles would pop off after they were baked. I periodically squish down portions and blend it onto the form with an Xacto knife and sculpt all the noodles to look like they fold together naturally.
Polymer clay holds details really well. On this scale, tool marks and even fingerprints will be noticeable, so I smooth them out with a wet paintbrush. After getting all the edges smooth and natural looking, time to bake it again.
Venny’s head is almost done, but looking 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, it means gradients, irregularities and a lot of texture is easier to get by layering paint over the baked clay. The polymer takes latex acrylic very nicely, so I like to use that with an enamel glaze.
You can see here the difference that a little paint can make in adding dimension
Even the mouth gets 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 roll out a ton of tiny cones of white and bake them. The process of glueing them into place is tedious and the teeth will be incredibly delicate from this point on, but the effect is well worth it. I use 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 leave 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 end up adding the fangs digitally.
I’m thinking Venny needs a body. I imagine 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 want it to look vaguely amphibian, so I make a pair of gills to go with it. The body will eventually be translucent and slimy looking, cast out of silicone and latex, but for now I just sculpt out the figure using modeling clay. I make 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 inside.
I could just make the front and back pieces once, since they are laterally symmetrical, but I want the front to have a different “skeletal” structure, so I’l go ahead and make both front and back pieces. I brush on casting latex to capture the crevasses and texture of the pieces before caking on silicone caulk.
I fill up the nice fresh molds with some opaque latex caulk. I want to be able to pose the figure when it’s done, so I lay in some fine wire to the tentacles. It also takes latex acrylic paints very nicely, so I paint it the color I want 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. For the back of the gills I use the latex with a bit of dye because it’s softer and runnier. It takes to the pores in the modeling clay, making perfect little gill tendrils. Rubber cement holds the tendrils to the rest of the gill structure.
But now there’s the question of how the gills will be attached. I want 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 has a screw protruding that will go into the rest of the body. The side that fits into the cerebellum gets a tiny neodymium magnet, as dose 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 use Vaseline for a release agent. It ends up making the silicone too foggy to see the texture I put on the internal structure, but it all still looks very organic, so I’m happy.
Getting the shot I wanted of Venny took heavy lighting and about 3 hours of shooting (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. 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.
So for the price of a few more prints I can now put QR links on the back of my cards, or really anything I want to.
The whole thing came together great and looks pretty disturbing. I got exactly the business card I wanted and learned a lot making it.