Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Head Tutorial, part one

A couple weeks ago, Finnish artist, Emilia Kurila, posted the following "tutorial" on her Facebook page:


1. Roughly shape the head and put eyeballs in place.
2. Add detail.
Sounds easy, right?

Fortunately for all of us, she didn't leave it at that.  The extended version was published on Facebook yesterday, and Emilia has graciously allowed me to repost it here.  Thanks a million, Emilia!

The Head Tutorial, Part One

by Emilia Kurila

Here's a little tutorial which I hope will shed some light on my sculpting process. I'm terrible at trying to explain HOW I do things, so if there's any questions about the steps/process, don't hesitate to ask!

Here are the tools I use to sculpt the soft epoxy. From left to right: sewing needle, sculpting tool (flat) and a small brush (cheap).
The tools for working with cured epoxy. From left to right: Dremel carving bit (Dremel not in the photo because of the size :D), craft/x-acto knife, small files (triangular, flat and slightly convex, round) and big round file for filing down bigger amounts quickly.
I start by carving the basic skull shape from styrofoam, making it slightly smaller in scale so that I'm able to cover that with epoxy. You can also skip the styrofoam completely and sculpt the "skull" using epoxy only.

I also add the cheeks from epoxy and sketch on the muzzle/mouth, nostrils and tear bone using a marker.
 Same step from different angle.
The head of a horse can be divided into four sections that will help you to get the important stuff in the right places. You can see the sections marked onto the stick as well as on the actual sculpt. 

From left to right: 
- base of the skull and where the ears go
- the eye
- end of the cheek/tear bone
- corner of the lip
- tip of the muzzle
Next are the eyeballs. I sculpt mine from epoxy, but you can also use beads if you happen to find ones that are the right size. Remember, the actual eyeball is larger than the visible eye! The size of the eye can vary based on the breed. Be careful not to make the eyes too large. Because the eyes are so meaningful to us, we humans have the tendency to exaggerate the size of them. 

I have also made a little socket for the eyeball so it sticks better to the head. When you make the socket check from all angles that the placing of the two is symmetrical.
In this photo I have refined the shape on the head a bit more and covered the eyeball with nail polish. The nail polish gives me a glossy, smooth surface, so that when I start sculpting the eyelids it will be easier to keep the eyeball clean. You can use colored nail polish as well, which will make it even easier to spot any epoxy smudges. 
Same step from a different angle.
Start the eyelids by rolling a couple of small rolls and place them on top of the eye. Be very gentle with it and don't push them on too securely before you are happy with the placement. Cut the excess from the corners. 

Pay attention to the shape of the eye. The corners aren't diagonal with the top line of the head, but in a slight angle. The shape of the eye also changes with the mood, so think about what kind of feeling you want it to convey. Also, some breeds, like Akhal-Teke for example, have very distinctive eyes.
Flatten the rolls to make those thin eyelids. You can refine the shape as you go along. I use my flat sculpting tool and brush to flatten the rolls and the needle to pull the lid back if I accidentally cover the eye too much. The needle in also a great tool for cleaning/sharpening the edge of the eyelid, so that it doesn't blend into the eyeball too much. You can leave the eyelids a bit thick at this point. It's easier to refine them once the epoxy has cured.

Once the epoxy has cured you can use the small files (I prefer the round one in this case) to refine the shape. In some cases I also use sandpaper to clean things up - but remember to keep the detail sharp!
Next I sculpt everything else surrounding the eyes, as well as the cheek/tear bone. For this I use all three sculpting tools. I do the same thing as with the eyelids: start with rolls. The skin folds on top of the eyelids are the main thing that gives your horse its expression. Photo references come again handy in this stage. I for myself tend to exaggerate as well as put wrinkles and other details into places where in reality there is none. This can make the eye look cartoonish.
The other side of the face.
And another angle.
Next are the nostrils! And no, I'm not kidding you, I really do them this way  First step is to make two matching balls…
Next I use the other end of the brush, the tip of the handle, to make a cavity into the balls. I start from the middle and slowly make the hole bigger and bigger by rotating my tool in it. It's important to take it slow here or you will end up tearing the walls. It's also essential to keep things moist.
Next I take the flat sculpting tool and push down where the red line is and push the pink part into the nostril. Then I take the brush and use the handle end to flatten where it's marked blue.
I use the brush (the actual brush end this time :D) to refine the shape. It might take some time to get the shape how you want it (it takes for me at least), but the good thing about doing them like this is that you can try different shapes without doing them over and over again from scratch.

I have also added the tip of the muzzle in this photo. It's easier to get the nostrils to blend into the muzzle correctly when that part is there.
The same step from another angle.
To be continued...


  1. What kind of resin do you like best? The biggest problem I get when sculpting the head is to get both sides symmetrical. I find if the lighting isn't good and bright, then shadows prevent me from executing my best. The older I get the worse it gets, ha! but I love daylight for sculpting. Any other tips on how to get measurements just right? I have calipers but on something this size, it's still difficult>
    thank you!

    1. Mirrors! Mirrors are wuzum to get stuff symmetrical! :D

    2. YES! I've just discovered the use of a mirror for this very purpose..:-)

  2. I am a middling sculptor at best, so take my advice with a grain of salt. That said, I like to take a photo of the better side, flip it horizontally in photoshop, and use that as a guide when sculpting the other side. Actually, I use photos a lot in all my artistic endeavors. It's often much easier to see the problems in a picture than it is in real life.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Well I don't have the use of a camera so again..I use the mirror and just compare each side like that..but your idea is much better..and for a 'middling' sculpter..you are brilliant!! :-)

  3. Your work is wonderful,, it is better then you think, thank you for posting this, I think you did a great job explaining, I do small holiday sculptures using paper clay, ect, your techniques will help with a lot of different animals!

  4. Great work and very helpful tutorial for a newbie like myself. I was having difficulty with the nostrils and it helped me a lot. Thank you very much.

  5. Can i ask which materials do you use ? Brand and other.