Sculpting Eyes

By popular demand -
Notes on how to sculpt horse eyes, Sarah Minkiewicz style:

(Sarah showed Darian and me how to sculpt eyes at the 1994 Jamboree. I went home and wrote up these notes right away so that I wouldn't forget. Since they're notes, they're rough, and may be difficult to follow if you weren't there. Please feel free to write me with questions! I have done this several times since, so I am getting a pretty good feel of how to do it. This is a pretty advanced project; I recommend you become familiar with sculpting epoxy muscles, etc, before attempting a new face. You'll find that this is very like the wonderful glass eye instructions that Sarah wrote up for Cascade. Muchos thanks to Sarah for sharing this with me and everyone else!)

If I'm putting new eyes on an existing model, I dremel off the eye ridges until the face is pretty smooth. It's okay for the sanding to be rough, but it's best if there's not a harsh corner at the ends of the dremelling. I use rubbing alcohol for all my smoothing (I keep some in a film cannister for this purpose) and occasionally dip my tools in it to keep the epoxy from sticking to them. I do all this work with fingers, a paintbrush (both ends are useful), and a moderately sharp pencil.

First, block in the general planes. (Make the very gross ridges, no attempt at any detail or eye.) The corners of the eye will lie on a line that is (when viewing the profile) ~40 degrees elevated from the cheekbone line and about 30 degrees from the horizontal when viewed from the front. (Note then, that this line is quite skewed and will not intersect with the cheekbone line.) The eyes are approximately an earlength down from the top of the head, and the back corner of the eye will lie along a line that also touches the back of the ear and the nostril, which will be parallel to the cheekbone. This is all finger work. Let the epoxy cure a bit.

(Letting the epoxy cure turns out to be an important clue for working with it at its best--different amounts of detailing will work better or worse with different epoxy stiffness. The cure rate will vary with temperature, so if it's going too slowly, you can warm it by putting it under an incandescent light or with a hairdryer.)

Next, block in the eye. The corners will lie as described above. The eye is rounded except at the corners- no harsh angle at the top. In this step, just the rough outline is done-no fineness, and no shaping of the eye itself, just the opening. A common mistake that I made early onl is making the eye too large. Sarah used a toothpick (round, from a sandwich); she might also use a pencil for this. Block in the brow shape, extending the top of the face area up and around, and put in roughly the hollows and bumps that occur above the eye. For the hollows and such, Sarah used a paintbrush with a rounded tip but a definite edge on the end. (This is the butt end of the paintbrush.)

To set the eye into the head correctly, remove the epoxy below the blocked out eye by rolling it off with the paintbrush. You won't be pulling it all off, just enough to set it into the head properly. This will leave a thin lower eyelid.

(More detailing of upper eyelid.)

At this point, the eye is well blocked in, but the lines are all soft, like on a mediocre casting of Swaps, or other classic TB. Now is a good time to check the face from all angles - front, looking up from the nose, from behind the ears, etc, to make sure the eyes are even and look good. If they're not, you may be able to smush them around a bit, and redetail, though occasionally you just have to start over. Leave to cure another 30 min or so (your mileage may vary, so keep sharp!)

Now you can clean up the detail a bit more, and make sure the eye has been rounded, etc. Add the "upper eyelid" (it's the upper fold of skin, not really an eyelid) that gives the model expression (see the PAM).

For the final detailing, Sarah likes to use a pencil, because she likes the way the graphite works as a lubricant on the surface.

Basically, she keeps coming back and cleaning up a bit, then lets it cure, then cleans up a little more, letting the increased stiffness work for her. I find also that sometimes the brush end of a fine paintbrush is good for smoothing some grooves, though the brush is more aggressive than I expect!

These notes really aren't as good as a live demonstration. I'd be happy to show anyone at a live gathering (all I need is some epoxy and a horse with the eyes dremelled off! :^) ). You might be able to find people in your area who can also help.

Have fun! And remember, most of the time I end up redoing the eyes at least once. Practice, and if it doesn't work, just dremel them off and do it again. Eventually, you'll find it!