Work has begun on the life-size but of Fannie Mae Duncan. I chose a softer clay, Chavant’s Le Beau Touche HM (high melt) for the sculpture as it has a nice buttery quality when soft but sets up a bit firmer when cool compared to Chavan’ts Le beau Touche.

As always, it starts with a sturdy armature. I used 1/2” pluming pipe and flange. Then I built a wire armature cage using various gages of aluminum wire and placed some foam insulation inside the cage to take some of the weight out of the clay.

Armature for bust ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
Blocking in the profile in clay ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Starting with the profile, I begin to lay in the forms with clay. Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of photos of Fannie Mae during this time period, and the photos I have are quite small and hard to blow up to life-size. There was only one grainy profile photo of her driving a car but the face in the image was only 1/2” high - so there is a lot of guess work and imagining to this portrait building session. Laying lines on the clay is a good way of keeping track of proportions. They become removed or obliterated during a work session, but are continually drawn back on as the work progresses.

Refining the skull shapes in clay ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Using anatomy reference, I build up the shape of the skull and then start putting in the fleshy forms. The eye sockets remain hollow as I’m working on building up the clay in other areas. When it is time to starting adding eyes I draw lines as a gage for where the forms will go.

Beginning the placement of features in clay ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Eyes can be sculpted using many different techniques. One way is to put a mass in the eye socket and then draw in the eyes and remove clay to make the eyeball and eyelids.

Putting in the eye volume ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy
Placement of eye volumes ©Lori Kiplinger

Another way is to build the eyelids, keeping the eyeball empty at first. This method forces you to really think about the shape of the eyes and lids. Once the lids are complete you go back in and put the white eyeball shapes into place.

Measuring lines for eyes in clay ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Building up the eyes in clay ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

It’s important not to get caught up in only one area and neglect others. Now that I have the major shapes and facial features in place I sculpt the ears. Even though it turns out the only one ear is showing, I do sculpt both - the forms just need to be they end up getting covered up by hair.


Now to put in some volumes for the suit and hair.

Redrawing proportion lines ©Lori Kiplinger Pandy

Once again, lines are drawn back into the clay. A continual process of redrawing in the proportion lines. You can see little bits of clay being added to flesh out volumes.


The bust is now at about 80% of completion. Next I will be going back in and refining the work making any needed corrections to the eyes and other features as the work progresses.

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