Tomlifemodel working with sculptor Stephanie Rubin

Tom in the initial stages of a pose for sculptor Stephanie Rubin

I worked as a model for sculptor Stephanie Rubin who had been commissioned to make a bronze of a famous theatrical scenic artist in Spain. The finished bronze was due to be a surprise presentation for the artist so she needed a model who physically looked like him. She contacted me after a fellow artist who had worked with me in a life drawing session recommended me because of my similar build. You can see here a few images of Stephanie working with me in her studio in north London.

How a model works with a sculptor to produce a human figure in clay

Stephanie started by making some drawings from life and asking me to try out a few different poses taken from photographs and her memories of working personally with her subject, called Jordy, in an effort to capture his characteristic pose.

One of Stephanie Rubin’s initial drawings of Tom for the sculpture

As you can see from the images below,  Jordy works on his large scenic theatrical designs by laying them on the floor and leaning over to paint with a number of different kinds of brushes mounted on a long sticks. He must have very strong neck and arms muscles to work in this way, as I can attest, after copying his stance for a number of days.

Once Stephanie had decided on the pose she wanted to depict, she then started moulding clay on to a prepared armature, which provides a solid frame, not unlike the human skeleton, to mount the clay “body”.

Sculptor Stephanie Rubin working on the clay model of Tom on an armature

Although, in this case, in the finished bronze the subject was to be “clothed”, the model initially works nude so that the sculptor can achieve  a study of the subject’s build ensuring that “clothing” will hang correctly and look realistic.

This, as you can imagine, is not a simple process. The sculptor needs a refined knowledge of the muscle and bone structure of the human form, which we all have in common, but which varies enormously from person to person. And on top of that, Stephanie needed to achieve a sense of movement and purpose in the pose in the style of the subject but making observations using a model who was not actually Jordy.

Tom stands on a paper floor guide to maintain the correct stance from all angles for sculptor Stephanie Rubin

From my point of view, the sculptor’s work  is a complex mix of observation, sensitivity, instinct, judgment, guesswork and artistry, all deployed with technical skills about how clay and the tools to model it behave. But if it was easy anyone could do it!

In addition, the sculptor takes constant measurements of the model’s body. Stephanie was working to produce a third of life size clay model. Using a measuring tape and artist’s calipers and mental arithmetic, Stephanie kept a constant check on my dimensions to make sure her scultpure was in good shape and the right shape.

She also needed to keep a keen eye on how well I was holding the pose and I confess that this pose leaning forward put a great deal of strain on the small of my back and there is a tendency for the body to slowly collapse in this kind of work. Many sculptors use a turntable so they can rotate the model to observe different angles. In this case we used a piece of paper as a guide to mark the position of my feet and the scenic artist’s long brush stick.

The third life-size clay model of Tom after two days’ work by Stephanie Rubin

Staying still and maintaining the pose is not rocket science but it’s not easy either so it is good to work with an artist like Stephanie who appreciates the difficulties and encourages regular breaks. With sculpture, particularly, there is a rythmn you can get into as a model. Depending on the pose, 15 or 20 minutes standing and then a few minutes’ stretch and break is a good discipline for a model to keep to so that the  artist has a good length of time to work and the model can pace himself. After that time, it is usual for artists working in three-dimensional art such as sculpture to want to turn either themselves or the model to take a look from a different angle, offering a respite for the model and variety of view for the artists. So that is how we proceeded for about six hours a day with breaks also for a drink or biscuits or lunch or a pee.

Stephanie Rubin “dresses” the clay model of Tom

Eventually the clay model had to be “dressed” and the question of what Jordy would wear became a matter of debate. Stephanie decided she wanted to give a suggestion of the working clothes he wore. Obviously, I didn’t have his wardrobe, but we settled on a pair of bright yellow pyjama trousers and a brown cotton short-sleeve summer shirt I was able to supply.  The colour was immaterial because the finished statue was to be in bronze.  The material, however, was important because of the way different types of cloth hang on the human body. So there was much fiddling about with trouser length to get the right kind of draped effect and debate about the length of material on the arm and whether the shirt should be a T-shirt or a collared shirt. Stephanie cut out the “clothes” like sewing patterns from clay rolled out like pastry and fitted them to the figure with all the skill of a tailor.

I can’t tell you the end result yet because my role at that stage concluded. Stephanie was moving on to the head and an obviously younger man with a full head of hair and a shortish beard like me did not at that stage make the right model for a grey-haired, balding older Spaniard with a long straggly beard and a ponytail. For that, Stephanie needed to study the photographs of Jordy and mine her memories of  him.


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